Thursday, July 4, 2013

Danica, Denny, Dale Jr, and Daytona: A Mid-year Update

(This is a cross-post with BSports StatsInsights)

With Daytona coming up this weekend, we are now starting to visit tracks for the second time this season. This is a natural place to review some mid-year stats, and preview what we might see between now and September, when the Chase officially starts.

First, let's review the drivers who have shown the greatest improvement from average start to average finish this season:

2013 Drivers Who Improve Most from Start to Finish
6.2       Danica Patrick
6.2       J.J. Yeley
4.4       Dave Blaney
3.9       David Reutimann
2.9       David Stremme

Notice that Danica Patrick leads this list. She has done a good job this year of holding her own during the races. Her next goal should be to improve her qualifying efforts, as that will pay big dividends for the rest of this year and later in her career.

One thing to notice is that this list generally featuresdrivers who don't start or finish particularly well. These are generally back-of-the-pack teams who are able to move up positions during races by avoiding crashes, and letting the attrition inherent to NASCAR benefit them.

Now to the flip side: let’s look at all the drivers who lose the most spots in-race. These are the drivers with the biggest drop from average start to average finish:

2013 Drivers Who Decline Most from Start to Finish
-10.0       Denny Hamlin
  -9.3      Kyle Busch
  -7.3      Kasey Kahne
  -5.8      Mark Martin
  -5.7      Matt Kenseth

Some of these drivers on this list aren’t surprising, giventheir volatile style of racing. We also see that the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team is on here (Hamlin, Busch, Kenseth). Even though Denny Hamlin has missed a few races, he may end up missing the Chase, an even bigger prize, because he just drops too many spots during a race. Many of those performances are due to factors beyond his control, but it all adds up to hurt his overall performance.

In terms of Hamlin's chances of getting into the Chase: based on the current projections, it looks tough for him to make the cut. He'llneed to crack the top 20 in points, and have 2 wins. Right now, the main challenge will be getting into the top 20 ranking. A 7.5 average finish is championship-level performance, and so far Hamlin has not been able to demonstrate that level of consistency or quality this season - but he may be saving the best for last; we’ll just have to wait and see.

Denny Hamlin's Chase Chances are looking slim:
26% chance of winning 2 races between now and Chase
Needs an average finish of 7.5 to be ranked in top 20.

In terms of who will make the Chase, there are three names outside the top 10 that I think will make a strong run, and three drivers currently in the top 10 that will struggle to hold their positions. These selections are all based on my multi-race projection system comparing this year's race-by-race performance to previous years.

Drivers Who May Struggle to Make Chase
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Greg Biffle
Joey Logano

Drivers Projected to Make the Chase
Kasey Kahne
Jeff Gordon
Brad Keselowski

Finally, with Daytona coming up this Saturday night, let’s try to make some predictions on who could win. As always, these names are derived by my single-race projection system to find drivers who could win the race.

Daytona Favorites
Tony Stewart
Jeff Gordon
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Threats for First Daytona Win
Clint Bowyer
Carl Edwards
Kurt Busch