I read the recent news that the lengths of two of the Western races have been changed. You can find the details here. The basic summary is:
- The first Phoenix race is getting longer
- The second Fontana race is getting shorter
Of course the main question on my mind is which drivers will these changes affect the most?
Let's consider all of the drivers who have raced in at least five of the last ten events at Phoenix or Fontana. (My analysis will exclude less-experienced drivers like Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose, but does that honestly really concern you here?)
If we compare average starting position with average finishing position, we can see which drivers did the best job increasing their track position during the course of the race. (Sorry, Dave Blaney.) Based on that, we can estimate that in a longer race, those drivers should continue to have more opportunity to improve their position. In a shorter race they will be hurt the most.
In the Phoenix example, notice the big winner here is Jeff Burton. Look for him to take advantage of the longer Phoenix race to come up with a better finish. Other notables include Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson. Maybe retired drivers like Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett could help a struggling team by taking the wheel for the Phoenix race, as they do a good job of improving their race standing as well.
On the flipside, the longer race spells trouble for guys like Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. More time at Phoenix means more time going backwards.
Now let's consider the opposite problem, which is Fontana's race-shortening.
In this case, the guys who lose position during the race will get the help, since the shorter race means less time to keep getting passed. Congrats to Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. The Roush cars of Matt Kenseth, David Ragan and Carl Edwards are the big losers here. They usually qualify poorly, but do a great job during the race to make up spots. The shorter race means they need to improve their Friday results.
Obviously this isn't exact science, but these are nevertheless some helpful indicators of what changes we might see at these two tracks from the past. This might also help your fantasy leagues and legal where available gambling opportunities.
(All Left Turns contributor Dale Watermill is the creator of the Watermill Score and the FLOPPER Award and edits the racing statistics blog 36 Races. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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