The Race for the Chase After 6 Races

Notable drivers after 6 races into the 2012 Sprint Cup season…

Tony Stewart
With two wins and 214 points, our model predicts that Tony Stewart is all but certain to make the Chase. While this is sort of a no-brainer considering that he won the Championship last year and his performance hasn’t shown any letup, it is notable to indicate how solid his season has been so far.

Looking at the breakdown, we project that Stewart has a 96.9% probability of making the Chase based on points in the top 10. Adding in his wins and looking at his Wild Card probability, his likelihood of making the Chase increases to 99.9%. In fact, just as a bare minimum to make the Chase with a Wild Card position, he only needs to an average finish of 24th or better based on historical data.

Jeff Gordon
Conversely, when we look at Jeff Gordon’s current season, we find that he will have to average a finish of 13th or better in order to make the Chase with a top 10 points position. This is quite doable considering his career average finish is 13.7. However, his current 2012 average finish is 22.5, which is the worst of his career. Looking at the historical window to make the Chase, he’s +26 points from the lowest total to make the Chase at this point.

Our model predicts that Gordon currently has a 42% probability of making the Chase. He’s certainly in the mix, but he’ll likely be part of those on the bubble making it in on points or fighting for a Wild Card spot.

Kurt Busch
So far this season, Kurt Busch has an average finish of 24.8. This is his worst performance since his first full season in Cup. Although his performance falloff from previous years is somewhat predictable considering the limited budget of Phoenix Racing and the team’s average finishing position of 27 last season.

Our model currently predicts that Kurt Busch has a 17.5% chance of making the Chase this season. Based on the resources at hand for his current team, it looks unlikely that his chances will improve as the season continues. He’s only +6 points inside the Chase window.

Kasey Kahne
Kasey Kahne’s chances of making the Chase are dwindling quickly. In order to make the Chase on points, he’d have to average finishes of 11th or better. To make it in with a Wild Card position, he will need to have an average finish of 18th or better and will likely need to pick-up at least 2 wins. So far this season, his average finish has been 28.5 and his best finish was 14th at Fontana. To put this in perspective, Kahne would need to outperform his best seasons (2006, 2009, & 2011) by averaging finishes by 4 spots better in order to make the Chase on points and essentially match his performance in those years in order to have a chance at making it in with a Wild Card position.

Our model predicts that Kahne has a 4.2% chance of making the Chase at this point. He is currently -17 points out of the Chase window. After 6 races, no one with his point total has ever made the Chase.

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2012 Auto Club 400 Projection

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Penalty Reversal will have Little Effect on Johnson’s Odds to make the Chase

John Middlebrook (NASCAR Chief Appellate Officer) overturned Jimmie Johnson’s 25 point penalty and Chad Knaus’s six race suspension that NASCAR levied after the Daytona 500 for illegal C-pillars. However, he upheld the $100,000 fine and probation till May 9th on Knaus.

The reversal of 25 point penalty against Jimmie Johnson improved his chance of making the Chase from 86.4% to 91.4% based our modeling. Prior to this reversal, the 25 points taken away from Jimmie Johnson was the most significant part of the penalties handed down for the C-pillar incident. Although this only affected Johnson’s chances by ~5%, how would this penalty affect other drivers’ chances of making the Chase?

Looking at our model, this 25 point penalty would have had about a -10% hit to most drivers’ chances of making the Chase. For example, currently we project Jeff Burton at 40.9% to make the Chase. With a 25 point penalty, his odds would drop to 29.2%. In order to get a similar -10% drop in Johnson’s chances of making the Chase, he would need to be penalized 45 points. Therefore, simply applying a point penalty to a team is not proportional. A team that is very dominant is less affected by simple point penalties than a less dominant team.

If the interest is to dissuade cheating by all teams, a more effective penalty would be a race suspension for the entire team. This would not only be more proportional to points being lost between dominant and less dominant teams, it would also have a severe business affect to the team. They would need to answer to sponsors and deal with a whole host of other interests that would be affected by not fielding a car for a race.

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