Daniel Suárez’s First Win Beat More Odds than He Might Realize

My Sunday column for NBC Sports last week showed how unlikely it was that a driver ranked outside the top 15 in points could win at Sonoma. Before the most recent race, it had happened only four times — and two of those were pretty extraordinary exceptions.

Robby Gordon ranked 16th in 2003 when he won Sonoma and Juan Pablo Montoya ranked 23rd prior to his 2007 win. The other two winners were Tony Stewart, who had missed the first eight races of the season due to a back injury, and Kyle Busch the year he missed the first 11 races of the season after leg injuries at Daytona.

Excluding the two exceptional circumstances, drivers ranked outside the top 15 account for only 6.7% of Sonoma wins.

Suárez came into Sonoma tied for 19th in the points with Denny Hamlin.

And…

Sonoma was the site of Daniel Suárez’s first win.

Chase Elliott dominated stage 1 and Kyle Larson stage 2. Suárez held the lead throughout stage 3, with the exception of a green-flag pit cycle.

Thanks to Suárez’s win, drivers ranked out of the top 15 have now won three out of 31 races (excluding the Stewart and Busch wins.) That bring the percentage of underdog wins up to 9.4%.

Someone asked if I was upset to be wrong. Statistics aren’t right or wrong. They just… are.

Statistics tell you what’s happened in the past. They help oddsmakers set odds, along with drivers’ current performance trends. As a bettor, you decide whether to go with a surer thing (usually at a lower payout) or with a result that is less likely to happen but pays well if it does.

Suárez’s First Win Beat Other Odds

My NBC Sports colleague Dustin Long wrote about Suárez overcoming many challenges in the lead up to this win. He moved to the United States not knowing any English, and then moved up to Cup from Xfinity earlier than perhaps was good for him. He ran for four different teams in as many years.

Add to that the odds I outlined above.

And one more.

The 30-year-old Suárez came into Sonoma with 194 races under his belt. Compare his career trajectory with someone like Joey Logano, who won his first race at age 19 after only 16 Cup race starts.

Age

In fact, excepting Michael McDowell’s 2021 Daytona 500 win, Suárez is the oldest first-time winner since 2014. In the graph below, I color coded the types of tracks at which first wins occur.

A scatter plot showing age of drivers at their first win by year and type of track

From 2000-2022, drivers’ first wins happened at:

  • 14 superspeedways
  • 11 intermediate tracks
  • 9 tracks between 1 and 1.5 miles
  • 8 road courses
  • 3 short tracks

Out of the 52 drivers represented on the graph, 15 (28.8%) are 30 or older. Here’s the breakdown as to the types of tracks at which drivers experienced their first wins:

Track TypeAll DriversUnder 3030 +
Superspeedways26.927.026.7
Intermediate21.224.313.3
Tracks between 1 and 1.5 miles 17.318.913.3
Large non-superspeedways13.516.26.7
Road courses15.48.133.3
Short tracks5.85.46.7

These numbers might suggest that Sonoma was the perfect track for Suárez to win at. However, that 33.3% stat is misleading because of who those five drivers are.

  • Steve Park
  • Juan Pablo Montoya
  • Marco Ambrose
  • A.J. Allmendinger
  • Daniel Suárez

The middle three drivers came to NASCAR with established success in other racing series. Steve Park won his first race in 2000. That means Sonoma was actually the least likely track type for Suárez to win his first race.

Experience

The other number I keep my eye on is how many races a winless driver has run. The graph below shows that your chances of winning go way down once you pass 200 races. As I mentioned, Suárez came into Sonoma with 195 races under his firesuit belt.

A scatter plot showing the number of races run by each driver at the time of their first win

Only 4 of our 52 drivers’ first wins (7.7%) came after more than 200 starts, but that’s obviously not a firm line. 19.2% of drivers won their first race after more than 150 starts. The more starts without a win, the less chance of getting a win.

Here are the active drivers with more than 100 race starts, but no wins:

  • J.J. Yeley – 385
  • Landon Cassill – 336
  • Ty Dillon – 185
  • Corey LaJoie – 181
  • Ryan Preece – 115
  • B.J. McLeod – 104

These drivers shouldn’t lose hope. Michael McDowell won his first race last year on his 384th start. And the patron saint of hope for NASCAR drivers, Michael Waltrip, who won his first race on his 466th start.

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