Dr. Diandra: Six more winless drivers’ best chances to make the playoffs
In the first part of this series examining which tracks offer winless drivers the best chances at making the playoffs, I covered Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suárez, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher. Here, I tackle six more winless drivers.
I use average finishing position as the primary metric given that running near the front is a prerequisite to winning. But I also consider previous wins, top-five and top-10 finishes.
In the tables that follow, a number without a decimal point indicates a single race result rather than an average.
Currently 15th in points, Bubba Wallace has best finishes this year of fourth at Charlotte, Kansas and Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the last 10 races of the regular season don’t contain a non-superspeedway 1.5-mile track.
Road courses are Wallace’s worst track type. He has an average finish position at road courses of 25.1 from 2018 to the present. However, the 23XI Racing driver has had success at the Indy road course. Although there have only been two races at the track, Wallace’s average is ninth and he finished fifth last year.
Wallace shines on superspeedways. He has a 16.5 average finish for all superspeedways, a win at Talladega and four top-five finishes at Daytona in 12 races there. Superspeedway averages tend to be lower than other types of tracks because of the disproportionate number of multi-car wrecks. Atlanta and Daytona are both possibilities.
Because I’m loathe to rely on any wild-card tracks, though, I also want to note that, although Wallace has an 18.5 average finish at Michigan, he finished second there last year. Given the uncertainty of the Indy road course, Michigan might be a better chance for a win. A third-place finish in New Hampshire last year makes that track a possibility.
Wallace’s main challenge at any of these tracks, however, is avoiding DNFs – he already has five this year.
|Wallace||Average Finish Position|
|Indy Road Course||9.0||5|
Alex Bowman started the season with six top-10 finishes in the first seven races but hasn’t scored a top 10 since. Bowman was assessed a 100-point penalty for out-of-spec hood louvers, but the points were returned. A few weeks later, his team was hit with a 60-point penalty for greenhouse modifications. He also missed three points races due to a back injury.
Despite all that, Bowman is 16th in the standings. That rank tells you that his performance this summer has been much better than 16th because he is beating a lot of drivers who have run all 16 races.
From 2018 (when Bowman joined Hendrick Motorsports full-time) to now, Bowman’s best track type has been road courses. Unfortunately, his biggest successes are mostly not the road courses left on the regular-season schedule. For example, he’s yet to earn a top-10 at Watkins Glen.
Bowman has strong finishing averages at Richmond and Pocono. Two of his seven career wins are at those tracks. He finished eighth at Richmond in the spring. Between Bowman’s talent and Chevy’s domination of the series, bet on Bowman making the playoffs.
|Bowman||Average Finish Position|
Bowman’s biggest challenge to winning his way into the playoffs might be a number of other winless drivers are also good at the same tracks.
Last year’s Daytona 500 winner, Austin Cindric, is a challenge to analyze because this is only his second full season in the Cup Series. There just isn’t much data there.
Of the 10 tracks remaining in the regular season, Cindric’s best finishes have come at the Indy road course. He finished second there last year and has an average finish of 5.5 over the two races he’s contested.
Cindric’s next best track is probably Nashville. I say probably because he’s only raced once there — but he finished seventh.
And one can’t count out a previous Daytona winner from taking that final race of the regular season.
|Cindric||Average Finish Position|
|Indy Road Course||5.5||2|
Cindric faces the additional challenge all Ford drivers have been dealing with this year, so it’s not just a question of being the better driver, but of having the best car and setup.
I’m using McDowell’s data from 2018, when he first joined Front Row Motorsports. Given that McDowell is one of the drivers who adjusted well to the Next Gen car, I weigh his recent data more strongly than data from five years ago.
Road courses are not McDowell’s strongest suit. He has a better average finishing position at the three Bristol dirt races than he does at road courses. Given that there aren’t anymore dirt races this year, McDowell’s best hope for a win is Watkins Glen, a classic road course that demands precision. He finished sixth there last year.
|McDowell||Average Finish Position|
|Indy Road Course||19.0||8|
I rank his chances at Pocono better than at Indianapolis. His career average is about the same, but he finished sixth at Pocono last year and eighth at the Indy road course. I rank Indy higher on the chaos index than Pocono.
And, again, we can’t rule out the 2020 Daytona 500 winner at Daytona.
A.J. Allmendinger is struggling more than I expected in his first year of full-time competition in the Cup Series with Kaulig Racing. If he does make it into the playoffs, he’s a long shot for proceeding past the first round.
Allmendinger is 20th in points after 16 races. He has not finished in the top five this season and has earned only two top-10s. His best results are two sixth-place finishes: Daytona and Sonoma.
Those two races bookend Allmendinger’s chances for making the playoffs. He’s got a 9.0 career average at Watkins Glen over 10 races, including a second-place finish last year.
Allmendinger also has performed well at the Indianapolis road course. He has a 4.0 average finish over the two races there, including a second place last year.
While Allmendinger’s superspeedway average finish position hovers around 20, his sixth-place finish at the Daytona 500 raises hopes that ‘the Dinger’ might pull off a victory in the last race of the regular season.
|Allmendinger||Average Finish Position|
|Indy Road Course||4.0||7|
Chase Elliott is the biggest surprise on the list of winless drivers 16 races into the season. A snowboarding accident and a behavioral penalty cost him seven races so far this season. That put him in 27th place going into the break.
Except for Charlotte, the No. 9 driver has finished no worse than 12th since returning from the leg injury. Given his history, Elliott could probably win at any of the 10 tracks left, but let’s limit the list to four.
|Elliott||Average Finish Position|
Elliott won Nashville last year. His career average at Nashville is so low because he was disqualified for having five lug nuts loose after the race. He had finished 13th.
Elliott also won last year’s Pocono race, but that win came about only after Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified. Elliott he has four top-five finishes at Pocono, including the win.
He finished second at New Hampshire last year, third at Atlanta and fourth at Watkins Glen. I rank Watkins Glen his top probability for a win because his career average is 5.6.
If you don’t see your driver here, check my last post and see if I covered him previously.