Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Important is Richmond to Building Momentum for the Chase?

Among drivers, teams and the media, there is always talk about building momentum to start the Chase. Specifically, Richmond is the place for teams to demonstrate they are primed for contention. In fact, if you listened carefully to the ABC telecast on Saturday night, the announcers described how Dave Rogers, Kyle Busch’s crew chief, wanted to do well that night, so his team could enter the Chase “with momentum”. Also note these comments by Joey Logano after the race: “We’re gonna take this momentum we have getting into the Chase and let ‘er rip and have some fun.”

Today we examine how real this momentum is. Here are the questions we are trying to answer:
  • Does the winner at Richmond do significantly better in the Chase?
  • Does the eventual Chase champion come from being a top finisher at Richmond?

Here is the raw data:

The table shows us the answers to our two questions.
  • The winner at Richmond actually does very well in the Chase, with a median championship finish of 3 throughout the entire history of the Chase. In the 7 most recent years, the Richmond winner has a median championship finish of 2. This is a great sign for Carl Edwards, who won the race this past weekend.
  • As far as eventual champions go, they entered the Chase with a median 7th place finish at Richmond. Only once did a driver finishing outside the top 15 at Richmond go on to win the title (Jimmie Johnson in 2006, after finishing 23rd at Richmond).
Let's see how this applies to 2013: here is where the 12 Chase contenders finished this past weekend:

Recall that no driver has won the chase after finishing worse than 23rd at Richmond.  This would presumably diminish the chances for Clint Bowyer (25th) and Jimmie Johnson (40th). However, both drivers had uniquely rare incidents which caused poor finishes: Johnson missed all of practice and qualifying because of his baby’s birth, and Bowyer spun out his car (on purpose according to many analysts) late in the race. That would suggest all 12 drivers have a shot of winning the title.

In nine years of the Chase, six of the champions had top-7 Richmond Finishes. This should be good news for Carl Edwards (1st), Kurt Busch (2nd), Ryan Newman (3rd), and Matt Kenseth (6th). 

Overall, the data suggests that yes, momentum in fact does appear to be a factor in bridging Richmond to the final 10 races. Richmond winners are generally Chase threats, and the eventual Champions usually did well at Richmond. With his Richmond win, Carl Edwards should be a factor in the Chase.