NASCAR’s Final Four’s Performance on 1.5-Mile Tracks

A lot of sites have overall statistics about the championship contenders for the season, or their performance at Homestead. Given that the final race is at a 1.5-mile track, it’s worth looking at how the final four contenders for the NASCAR championship have performed at 1.5-mile tracks.

I was surprised (and pleased) to realize that we’ve only run 10 mile-and-a-half tracks this year. Surprised because everyone is always complaining about how many 1.5-mile tracks we run and pleased because, boy, it makes calculating percentages really, easy.

2018’s 1.5-Mile Tracks

We visited three tracks twice and four tracks once (now that the return to Charlotte has become a road course). Let’s look at how each driver did at these tracks by plotting their finishes all on the same scale and same chart. I’ve inverted the scale, so that the longer the bar is going down, the worse the finish.

The Final Four vs. The Field

Since 1.5 mile tracks make up 30% of the tracks we run, making it to the final four means that you have to be at least decent at intermediate tracks. The final four are.

Final Four vs. Each Other

But, of course, the final four aren’t competing against the field at Homestead: They’re competing against each other. So let’s look at their individual records.

Final Four Records at 1.5-Mile Tracks

A couple things stand out immediately, notably that Harvick is either very good or he crashes early. But out of three DNFs this year, two came at 1.5-mile tracks, and his last three races have been his three worst (if you take into account the penalties from Texas, which I think you should.) 

Truex, Jr. has one bad (> 30th) finish at 1.5-mile tracks, while Logano’s worst finish is 22nd and Busch’s worst finish is 17th.

Here’s another way of looking at the history. The symbol shows the average finish for the 10 tracks and the line goes from the worst finish to the best. If the symbol were halfway between the worst and the best, it would mean the driver was equally likely to finish above or below the average. These are all closer to the best finishes

High, Low and Average Finishes at 1.5-Mile Tracks

You can see Harvick and Truex’s variability in the length of the lines associated with them. Looking at average finishes at 1.5 Mile tracks in 2018:

  • Busch has an average finish of 5.2 and the smallest spread in finishes
  • Truex, Jr. has an average finish of 7.2 and a worst finish of 37th
  • Logano has an average finish of 7.7, but a worst finish of only 22nd
  • Harvick has an average finish of 10.5 and, as noted before, the worst finish of any of the final four.

Below, I’ve put wins in green, 2nd-5th place finishes in yellow and 6th-10th-place finishes in red. (I haven’t included finishes outside the top 10 on this graph.)

Wins, Top-5s and Top-10s at 1.5-Mile Tracks

Harvick’s got one more win over Busch, but fewer top 10s. Truex only has one win at a 1.5-mile track this year, while Logano has none.

What about situations in which a driver has the best car and doesn’t win the race? Laps led may augment our understanding of how well the final four drivers generally do at 1.5-mile tracks.

Laps Led on 1.5-Mile Tracks

We’ve run 3003 laps at 1.5-mile tracks. That’s about 4500 miles. Of those laps:

  • Busch has led 19% of all laps run at 1.5-mile tracks.
  • Havick has led 29%
  • Truex, Jr. has led 9.7%
  • Logano has led 8.3%

Of all four drivers, only Busch has run all those laps. Logano has run all but one. Truex and Harvick (as might be guessed from the low finishes) have run fewer laps (2749 and 2561 laps respectively). Let’s look at the fraction of laps the drivers have led compared to the number they’ve run.

% Laps Led Out of Laps Run

If you look at it this way, Harvick looks a lot stronger than Busch. When he’s on the track, he’s led 34% of the laps he’s run, whereas Busch has only led 19%. Of course, we all know that the only lap that matters is the last one.

Driver Ratings at 1.5-mile Tracks

Here’s a high/lo/average plot of driver rating for only the 1.5-mile tracks. Harvick wins this one as well, with Busch 2nd, Truex, Jr. 3rd and Logano 4th.

Beating Each Other

But you don’t have to win to win the Championship, so how have the drivers done racing against each other?

How Many Times Each Driver Has Beaten the Other Three on 1.5-Mile Tracks

As much as I love Logano’s optimism and belief that he’s the leading contender, he hasn’t topped all three of these drivers at any 1.5-mile track this year. That’s not to say he hasn’t bested them elsewhere, though.

How Many Times Each Driver Has Beaten the Other Three on All Tracks vs. 1.5-Mile Tracks

Busch is just as likely to beat you at a 1.5-mile track as he is at any other track, whereas Logano is much more likely to beat you anywhere other than a 1.5-mile track.

So It’s Pretty Clear Which One of Them Will Win, Right?

Well, of course not.

Because the final race isn’t a culmination of anything. It’s a single race. Logano crashed out on Lap 95 last week and finished 37th out of 39 cars. All you need is a late penalty, someone else’s crash or a slow pit stop and the entire complexion of the race changes.

And there’s also the possibility that none of the four win. As noted earlier, Harvick’s last three races have been his three worst at 1.5-mile tracks. Busch had trouble at Texas. As a group, the final four have been less impressive in the last nine races than they have been in the main part of the season.

The Wild Card

All three of the cars that were taken back to the R&D Center after Texas were found to have spoiler-related violations. Rodney Childers commented that a lot of people seemed to have found something to improve their runs at 1.5-Mile tracks. We don’t know who else was running something they may not take a chance on bringing to the track this week. We don’t now how long the spoiler modifications have been going on.

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