Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It’s Not Really a Tie: Jimmie Johnson Still Has the Edge over Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth had a career day this past Sunday at Martinsville, leading the most laps and finishing second to Jeff Gordon. Somebody who did not have a career day was Jimmie Johnson, whose fifth-place finish could actually be considered a disappointing result, given how well he’s typically performed there.

As a result of Kenseth’s outperformance over Johnson, the two of them now have exactly the same number of points in the standings (2294), with Kenseth holding the tiebreaker.

According to our calculations, however, it’s Jimmie Johnson who still has the higher chance of winning the championship. In fact, even by finishing fifth, Johnson’s title chances increased this weekend, to 53% from 52%.

Kenseth, now at 41%, made the biggest move, jumping from 33% last week. The extra 8% he gained came at the expense of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who both finished outside the top-5. The two of them combined only have a 5% title chance, much lower than their 14% last week. If you are Harvick, for example, sixth-place doesn’t cut it when your main competitors all beat you.

Jeff Gordon, with his win, is still barely hanging on to title hopes, at 1%. He will have to effectively win out the final three races to make it happen. Even though he is third in the points standings, he is fifth in our probabilities, because he has a lower chance of winning multiple races, compared to Harvick and Busch.

The expected points total for the champion now hovers around 2410, which would beat the 2403 that Tony Stewart earned two years ago.

Taking 2410 as the assumed points total needed, that would mean Johnson or Kenseth would have to earn 116 points in the final three races, or 39 points per race, which is a top-5 average finish.

For Jeff Gordon, he would need 143 more points to reach 2410, or 48 points per race, which is only doable by winning and leading the most laps in the final three races. This is unlikely to happen. Gordon fans should be less concerned about his own success, but rather hoping for Kenseth and Johnson to suffer problems. In that case, the total points necessary to win the title might come down to 2390. This would reduce the number of points Gordon needs to 123, which is 41 points per race, or a third-place average finish.

Check in next week, after Texas, for the latest probabilities.