Last-last-minute tips for Clash picks

I tried something different over at NBC Sports by providing some insight on what practice and qualifying likely mean in terms of Clash finishes. I’ve done a little more data chugging this morning.

So if you still haven’t settled on your fantasy lineup, here are a few additional insights that might help you make your Clash picks.

There Are No Useful ‘Stats’ for the Clash

I’ve seen a couple people citing Clash ‘statistics’ that go back five years. This is only the second race at the L.A. Coliseum. Racing at a 1/4 mile track has absolutely nothing in common with superspeedway racing (or Bristol, or Texas or even the Daytona Road Course).

If any of the sources you consult are doing this, you might want to re-evaluate your choices before using them to finalize your Clash picks.

Justin Haley was Class of the Field in Qualifying

I didn’t realize until I plotted the qualifying times how much Haley had beaten the field by. The y-axis scale on the graph below is a little under one second.

A scatter plot showing Busch Clash qualifying results

Haley beat Kyle Busch by 0.140 seconds. Busch beat Christopher Bell by 0.016 seconds.

This graph also draws out what a horrible qualifying lap Chase Elliott had. Elliott was 0.152 seconds slower than Chris Buescher, who qualified just ahead of him.

Practice Beat Qualifying

According to the Fox Sports broadcast, the track cooled by 15 degrees F during the course of practice. Qualifying times were slower than practice times. Haley had the least falloff, losing only five-thousands (0.005) of a second.

Leaving out Ryan Blaney’s aborted qualifying attempt, Ty Dillon had the largest falloff, from a 13.666-second lap in practice to a 14.489-second qualifying run.

Trouble for Blaney, Elliott, Gibbs and Cindric in Heat Races

The top five finishers from each heat race advance to the Clash. Last year’s results showed little movement from where a driver started his heat race to where he finished.

A bubble plot showing starting and finishing positions for 2022's Busch Clash heat races

The size of the bubble is proportional to the number of drivers it represents. Each starting position has four drivers, so you can tell from the bubble in the lower left-hand corner that all four drivers who started on the pole also finished on the pole.

And all but three of the drivers starting in the top-five positions also finished in the top-five positions.

No one starting from eighth or ninth made it into the top five. While some of the drivers you expect to start in the back are there, so are Ryan Blaney, Ty Gibbs, Austin Cindric and Chase Elliott.

The statistics say that these drivers are more likely than not to end up in the Last Chance Qualifier races, so don’t drop them from your Clash picks yet.

The good news is that these races are longer and the field is weaker. The bad news is that drivers got pretty aggressive in these races. This year, they’ve started the aggression even earlier.

Barring getting caught up in an accident (or other bad luck), these four drivers have a good chance to come from the back of the field and make it into the Clash.

If one of them must rely on the champion’s provisional, Elliott is the highest ranked.

Consecutive Laps

The next graph is a little complicated, but contains some really good information to factor into your picks.

A scatter graph showing consecutive lap averages

These are the times for runs lasting 1, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 laps. I arranged then in order of fastest single lap.

You’re looking for how spread out the times are. For example, Haley had good runs up to 15 laps, but his 20- and 25-lap average times are higher than anyone else’s in the top-26 drivers. Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones also have a pretty wide spread betwen

Conversely, look at how Bubba Wallace’s times are pretty close to each other. He was able to put together some pretty solid long-lap run. And that’s probably more important than his having qualified 16th. William Byron shows the same kind of consistency.

Brad Keselowski had the worst of both: slow times across the board and a huge spread as the number of laps increases. I’m pulling for RFK to make a comeback this year, so this result was pretty disappointing.

The Unexpected

Four drivers didn’t finish the 2022 Busch Light Clash because of mechanical issues. I don’t expect to see as many mechanical issues this year. Gibbs’ fire during practice, however, showed that there’s at least one more wildcard variable this year.

And don’t forget that teams within each organization will be comparing notes and making changes before the heat races.

Good luck on those Clash picks!

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