The first round of qualifying defied expectations in both good and bad ways.
This is my excuse as to why it was my first attempt at making predictions Failed. I expected Alex BowmanAnd the William ByronAnd the Chase Brisco And the Austin Dillon He will be the first four drivers to exit the playoff. Only Dillon failed to move into the round of 12.
Or that none of the 16 drivers will win even one of the top three Playoff races.
On the plus side, playoff drivers had 11 out of 15 top 5 potential players (73%), and 21 out of 30 top 10 potential players (70%). This corresponds to a season with 19 different winners.
Chase Elliot He is the only driver to win more than two races this season. The drivers made qualifying by finishing well rather than winning too many races.
Playoff performance by numbers
DNFs played a major role in the first round. Each of the four drivers who were disqualified had at least one DNF. Harvick and Busch each had two. Both Busch’s DNFs and one of Harvick’s had an equipment malfunction.
Only three drivers made the top ten in all three playoff races: Christopher BellAnd the Denny Hamlin and Byron. Two of my expected eliminations have outperformed. And the only driver I expected to dominate qualifying didn’t.
Relative to the regular season
Excluding equipment malfunctions and malfunctions, one would expect most drivers to perform, on average, to the same level they ran during the regular season. This often does not happen.
In the first two elimination rounds, the top ten are enough to stay in the game. This is the metric I will focus on here.
The chart below compares the percentage of drivers in the top ten in the first three races to the same metric from the regular season.
Each stock starts from the driver’s regular season average and travels to the qualifying rate. Blue indicates that the playoff is performing better than the regular season while red indicates the opposite.
Six drivers performed better than the regular season averages would suggest.
Byron entered the 10th seed playoffs only five times in the top 10 of the regular season. With three of the Top 10 in the first round of qualifying, he took the second most points of any driver in the Round of 16.
Hamlin had the second biggest improvement with a two-time runner-up and ninth. This continues his all-season trend of trying to beat the slow start.
Bell’s 53.8% average top-10 average for the regular season doesn’t give him much room for improvement. But he did. He is also the only driver to have won three qualifying matches.
Bowman, whose crew chief, Greg Ives, will retire at the end of this season, has risen from 38.5% to 66.6% of the top 10.
“I think we’re very excited, because Greg’s last 10 races are with me and we want to finish on a high note. We know the summer isn’t that important anymore, our problems, and it’s a good reset for us in qualifying,” Bowman said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Elliot. He has the 10 most finals of any driver with a score of 18. But only one came from the first playoff.
Driver finishes ups and downs throughout the season. The ups and downs are even bigger this year because of the new next generation car. For this reason, it is worth comparing playoff performance not only to the average for the entire regular season, but also for the last five races of the regular season.
The stocks in the following chart start from each driver’s top 10 races in the last five races of the regular season and move up to the qualifying rate.
Seven drivers have improved from the last five races of the regular season – the six before, plus Daniel Suarez. Suárez rose from 20% to 33.3%. This is typical of a season that has been fairly consistent, but not at a level that would take him to the quarter-finals.
Byron’s transformation is even more impressive given that he didn’t have a top 10 finish in the last five races of the regular season.
“I think we had a lot of really good tracks at the start of the year,” Byron said. “When we started chasing some speed and chasing some things, we got off a little bit all summer.”
He thinks the team is back where it should be.
“We know what works. We definitely know what hasn’t worked after the last month or so, so that’s a good thing,” Byron said.
Joey Logano It has the biggest downtrend for the last 5 races, from 80.0% above the 10th to 33.3%.
This chart shows Elliott’s playoff decline to be an ongoing trend from the end of the regular season. This could be good news for other drivers who are struggling to catch up.
Scoring and reseeding
The table below summarizes the points and qualifying points earned during the three qualifying races and each driver’s final score prior to reclassification. The lineup looks very different than it did in this round of three races.
I didn’t appreciate match points until I did the math. Each driver moving into the round of 12 receives 3,000 points, plus a break point total.
With none of these drivers winning a race, only five of the 21 break points available in the last three races affect the new standings. Bale won in two stages. Byron, Bowman, and Bush, one each.
So we mostly went back to where we were leaving Daytona.
Ryan Blaney Spot fell. Byron’s dramatic transformation did not affect his standings in the playoff. Most of Bowman’s rise to the charts is due to the elimination of drivers who ranked seventh, ninth and eleventh.
The current arrangements reflect NASCAR’s eternal struggle between winning and consistency. On the one hand, I understand the desire to imitate the playoffs of other sports and not let the results of the last round affect the next. But retaining break points for the regular season means Elliott is back in P1 despite scoring fewer points in all three playoff races than seven of the 16 drivers.
That’s why Bell, who has nearly twice as many points as Elliott and won two stages, is tied for sixth with Hamlin and Blaney. Elliott goes from 40 points behind Bale to 27 points ahead of him.
If Bill or any of the other remaining drivers wanted to challenge Elliott, even the top five wouldn’t suffice.
In these qualifiers, performance is not enough. You have to win.