Patrick Carpentier is usually smiling, but his smile was special Friday after he won the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Nanoseconds hadn’t elapsed before commentators started attributing his win to the 1 hour, 45-minute delay that was caused by rain. Clearly the changing track conditions were responsible for one of the ‘go-or-go-homers’ winning the pole.
Or were they? Here’s where I really appreciate jayski.com, who posts all the relevant data in html tables. That format makes it is easy to import the data into Excel or another program so that you can look for trends. Things become much clearer when you make a graph.
This plot shows the qualifying time (on the vertical axis) vs. when the qualifying attempt occurred (horizontal axis). The black squares represent drivers in the top 35. The red circles are go-or-go-homers who made the race and the two blue triangles are the two cars that didn’t make the race. The vertical line is when the delay occurred.
The plot and a couple of simple calculations show some interesting things. The average qualifying time for the first 24 cars was 29.82 seconds. The average qualifying time for cars 25 through 35 was 29.68 seconds, so there was a definite decrease in qualifying times after the rain delay (0.14 seconds) between two groups of cars that, on average, ought to be roughly comparable.
The average time for the go-or-go-homers was 29.84 seconds (29.74 seconds if you remove the times of the two cars that didn’t qualify). So the go-or-go-homers were roughly comparable to the average of the cars that went before the rain delay.
Patrick’s time was significantly faster than that of the next qualifier: He clocked 29.349 seconds, while Bobby Labonte, the second-place qualifier, came in with 29.512 seconds. Patrick beat Bobby by 0.16 seconds, which is slightly better than the average advantage gained by the top 35 cars that qualified after the rain delay. (Labonte qualified after the rain delay as well). Reed Sorenson, who qualified 6th is the highest ranked driver who qualified prior to the rain delay and he ran 29.565 seconds. So there was 0.053 seconds between second and fifth. In fact, no two adjacent qualifiers had such a large difference in times until you get to 45th place.
Was Patrick’s pole a fluke? The rain delay may have helped, but given the large margin of difference in times (especially since the second-place qualifier also had the advantage of the rain delay), I’d say it’s unfair to say that the only reason he won the pole is the rain delay. He deserves more credit than that.