The big story right now is Denny Hamlin's injury. We are seeing a lot of discussion out there wondering whether his 2010 start will be just as good as his 2009 ending. Some of the PR from the Joe Gibbs camp is that this will be no problem.

Let's compare some recent examples of NASCAR injuries.

]]>

The big story right now is Denny Hamlin’s injury. We are seeing a lot of discussion out there wondering whether his 2010 start will be just as good as his 2009 ending. Some of the PR from the Joe Gibbs camp is that this will be no problem.

Let’s compare some recent examples of NASCAR injuries.

In 2009, Carl Edwards broke his right foot in September. In the following twelve races after the injury (the last twelve of 2009), he had three Top Tens, and a total of ZERO Top Fives. His average finish was 19th.

But in the twelve races BEFORE the injury, he had five Top Fives, six Top Tens, and finished all twelve of those races on the lead lap in the top 20, for an average finish of 10th.

Clearly his injury made a difference, as those two sets of a dozen races were like two totally different drivers. An injured Carl Edwards is like Casey Mears on a good day. Huge drop.

But you could say Edwards’s injury was much more severe from a driving point of view than Hamlin’s ACL tear in his left knee. Very different than Edwards’ broken right foot – but still, a lot of people at that time thought Edwards wouldn’t suffer from the injury. The results suggest an immediate drop in performance.

Another notable injury was Jimmie Johnson, who before the 2007 season started broke his wrist by falling off the roof of a golf cart. After the first dozen races in 2007, he had four wins and was second in points, eventually winning the title that year. I guess you can’t complain about that.

Based on such good results, Jimmie Johnson came back before the 2009 season with a gash in his left hand. He didn’t start the season nearly as strong as in 2007, but still came back to win the title. Again, no complaints here.

We also saw Jeff Gordon’s back issues come up this year, but he held strong for a third place chase finish, though you kept wondering if he could have been closer to winning the title had he not been injured.

In 2006 we saw defending champion Tony Stewart’s nasty injury cause him to miss the Chase, even though in those final ten races he had extraordinary performance.

The lesson here is if you want to get injured, do it before the season starts, so you have time to recover. Injuries that happen in the summer or later could spell doom, since there just isn’t enough time to recover. Hamlin might have a slow start to the year, but it shouldn’t affect his overall standings assuming he qualifies for the Chase.

(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 36races@gmail.com.)

** Related links:**Drivers Affected By Race Length Changes

Toyota Drivers helped the stock market most in 2009

What is the Watermill Score?

Visualizing Sprint Cup points accumulation

Montoya and Stewart have more in common than huge egos

How the 2009 season would have ended using different point systems

Drivers with momentum entering 2010

Replacing crew chief did not help Junior

Congratulations to Paul Menard, your 2009 FLOPPER Award winner

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Late in 2008 I did some analysis showing which drivers over their careers helped the stock market most. Who do you root for if you want the stock market to go up? And which winners hit your wallet the hardest?

I have resurrected the data for the 2009 season. I considered the first trading day after a race, and compared the performance of the S&P 500 to the winning driver and manufacturer of the most recent race. Here is what I found:

]]>

Late in 2008 I did some analysis showing which drivers over their careers helped the stock market most. Who do you root for if you want the stock market to go up? And which winners hit your wallet the hardest?

I have resurrected the data for the 2009 season. I considered the first trading day after a race, and compared the performance of the S&P 500 to the winning driver and manufacturer of the most recent race. Here is what I found:

Kyle Busch’s four wins produced a total stock market gain of 5.7 percent.

Matt Kenseth’s two wins to start the season caused an 8 percent loss in the stock market. Despite not doing any other damage on the track the rest of the year, his two wins in February did enough damage to everybody’s wallets for the whole year. If you look at my list from 2008, the -8 percent Kenseth displayed this past year is enough to put him in the bottom echelon of *all-time performers*.

Maybe people don’t like Jimmie Johnson that much, but his seven wins turned into a positive 4 percent gain in the stock market, good for all of us.

And despite Mark Martin’s -6.7 percent contribution in 2009, his career totals still put him in the top 10 of all-time positive contributors.

Now let’s just consider the per-race *average* stock market performance for wins. So Matt Kenseth’s negative 8 percent over 2 wins is a negative 4 percent average on this table.

Here we see a lot of single-race winners near the top: David Reutimann, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray all had a single win, but were able to parlay those wins into positive market performances.

On the flip side, Brad Keselowski and Brian Vickers had individual wins that really hurt the market the next day.

Notice Tony Stewart, in a new role as owner-driver, had a very quiet 0.1% contribution per win. Not rocking the boat at all.

Finally, the most intriguing result of all: Toyota was the only manufacturer that produced a positive stock market effect all year. Maybe foreign automakers aren’t that bad after all?

(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 36races@gmail.com.)

** Related links:**Another way to look at the Chase

What is the Watermill Score?

Visualizing Sprint Cup points accumulation

Montoya and Stewart have more in common than huge egos

How the 2009 season would have ended using different point systems

Drivers with momentum entering 2010

Replacing crew chief did not help Junior

Congratulations to Paul Menard, your 2009 FLOPPER Award winner

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

As we have discussed before, the simplicity of the Watermill Score is that it can summarize what it takes to succeed in the NASCAR points system with just four basic inputs:

- Wins
- Top 10s
- Lead lap finishes
- Races at the finish

The color-coded groupings showing that each set of drivers with similar points also had similar Watermill scores. The relationship holds consistent from top to bottom.

Look at how tight the groups are:

]]>

As we have discussed before, the simplicity of the Watermill Score is that it can summarize what it takes to succeed in the NASCAR points system with just four basic inputs:

- Wins
- Top 10s
- Lead lap finishes
- Races at the finish

A simple count of each of these gives you the Watermill Score of zero to four, and it is almost 100 percent correlated with the real points system. We have seen it work over the course of an entire season, but what happens if we look at it just using the 10-race Chase, where championships are decided. Consider this table, which is ranked by how many points each driver scored during the 10 Chase races.

The color-coded groupings showing that each set of drivers with similar points also had similar Watermill scores. The relationship holds consistent from top to bottom.

Look at how tight the groups are:

- The drivers with 26 watermills were within 35 points of each other
- The drivers with 21-23 watermills were 65 points of each other
- The drivers with 18-19 watermills were 67 points of each other

The bottom line is that what holds up over the course of 36 races also holds up in the end-of-season Chase. The Watermill Score is a great predictor of points and the simple breakdown allows teams to properly strategize during the race. The grid also shows that if you could finish each race on the lead lap, it would earn you 20 watermills. Most of the title is decided on consistency.

(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 36races@gmail.com.)

*Related links:*

What is the Watermill Score?

Visualizing Sprint Cup points accumulation

Montoya and Stewart have more in common than huge egos

How the 2009 season would have ended using different point systems

Drivers with momentum entering 2010

Replacing crew chief did not help Junior

Congratulations to Paul Menard, your 2009 FLOPPER Award winner

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Editor's note: Earlier this year All Left Turns introduced the Watermill Score, the four-pronged strategy that Sprint Cup teams should follow in order to win a title. In a follow-up story, we showed how winning a NASCAR title is like counting cards. This third post elaborates on the first two, covering why the Watermill Score is important and how teams can use it to affect race strategy.

There is a startlingly basic relationship that almost fully defines the traditional NASCAR points system as it was created by Bob Latford a generation ago. The current Latford system gives points all the way from first to last and bonus points for leading laps. You can score anywhere between 34 and 195 points in a single race. But take a look at this simple revelation. We can simplify the points system to just this: Add up for each driver just four data points.

The total of these four numbers gets you to basically the same rankings as the current Latford system. We have W+T+L+R. For purposes of this article, and with no other name I can think of, I will refer to this number as a Watermill Score. Also notice the letters W, T, L, and R all get used in there.

Let’s briefly review two examples:

First, consider the driver with the highest Watermill Score in each season this decade. Notice that in every case but one, the driver with the highest Watermill Score also scored the most NASCAR points that season. The year 2002 is the only exception because of a rare closeness in the competition, where seven drivers were within 226 points of the champion. Notice I am not resetting the points for the Chase. I only want to look at how many total points drivers accumulated during the year. The Chase reset doesn’t allow for a fair comparison.

]]>

Editor’s note: Earlier this year All Left Turns introduced the Watermill Score, the four-pronged strategy that Sprint Cup teams should follow in order to win a title. In a follow-up story, we showed how winning a NASCAR title is like counting cards. This third post elaborates on the first two, covering why the Watermill Score is important and how teams can use it to affect race strategy.

**I. Introducing the Watermill Score**

There is a startlingly basic relationship that almost fully defines the traditional NASCAR points system as it was created by Bob Latford a generation ago. The current Latford system gives points all the way from first to last and bonus points for leading laps. You can score anywhere between 34 and 195 points in a single race. But take a look at this simple revelation. We can simplify the points system to just this: Add up for each driver just four data points.

**Wins + Top 10s + Lead Lap Finishes + Races at the Finish**

The total of these four numbers gets you to basically the same rankings as the current Latford system. We have W+T+L+R. For purposes of this article, and with no other name I can think of, I will refer to this number as a Watermill Score. Also notice the letters W, T, L, and R all get used in there.

**II. Examples of the Watermill Score in use**

Let’s briefly review two examples:

First, consider the driver with the highest Watermill Score in each season this decade. Notice that in every case but one, the driver with the highest Watermill Score also scored the most NASCAR points that season. The year 2002 is the only exception because of a rare closeness in the competition, where seven drivers were within 226 points of the champion. Notice I am not resetting the points for the Chase. I only want to look at how many total points drivers accumulated during the year. The Chase reset doesn’t allow for a fair comparison.

Now let’s look at our second example – the 2009 standings. The drivers are sorted by their NASCAR points ranking. Notice that the Watermill Score is broken up into color-coded groups by score. In almost every case, the groups are in distinct blocks separating the various drivers. As the Watermill Score goes down, so do the total points for each driver. You can see how the Watermill Score is a very good estimator for the overall points system.

What’s most important is that the Watermill Score is just as accurate at the top of the points system as at the bottom. Some data (like lead-lap numbers) might only be relevant to the top 10 in points, because most people at the bottom of the standings do not have a significant number of laps led. But this score is consistently accurate throughout the standings. That’s what makes it so valuable.

I attempted a modified version of the Watermill Score, using top-fives instead of top-10s. It turns out this metric is very good as well, but the original version is slightly more predictive. The table below shows the results, along with the value of some of the most basic metrics commonly cited by industry professionals today. These correlations were done each year using the top 30 in the driver points standings. I used 30 to remove the effect of part-time teams, mid-season driver switches, teams that don’t qualify for every race, etc.

**1. The correlation of the Watermill Score is high, repeatable, and consistent.**

- The Watermill Score is more correlated to the points standings than every other metric listed.
- Notice the minimum score in blue at the bottom, .977, is better than the average score of any other metric, including Average Finish.
- Average Finish can be deceptively inaccurate in some years (like last year with a .90 correlation and other years with .92 and .94.)
- The Watermill Score is very consistent, and always correlates between .977 and .988 every year this decade.

**2. The number of wins by itself is not a great measure of success. In fact, wins is a worse predictor than average starting spot.**

**3. Notice in every single season, top-10s are a much better predictor of success than top-fives.**

**4. Racing at the Finish (inverse of DNF) on its own is not a very important statistic, but when combined with the other data, it becomes very important as a needed measure of consistency.**

In conclusion, the data shows us that the Watermill Score is in fact a truly helpful statistic, and it is the best estimator of the points standings than any other dataset.

**IV. How can the Watermill Score be used to affect race strategy?**

Now that we’ve seen the value of the Watermill Score, we can see that the way to maximize your points during the season is to focus on four tasks:

* Finishing races

* Finishing on the lead lap

* Getting top 10s

* Winning

If you win a race and accomplish all four tasks, you earn a Watermill Score of 4 in that race. If you crash out of a race, you accomplish none of these tasks, earning zero watermills. A lead-lap top-10 earns you 3 watermills.

Notice that the points are split between accomplishing basic tasks (finishing and on the lead lap) while the other half is focused on up-front results (top 10s and wins). This makes a lot of sense to anybody who has been watching NASCAR for years. The Latford system punishes you for bad results just as much as it rewards you for good ones.

Notice that Jimmie Johnson had 96 Watermills this year, an average of 2.67 per race. Matt Kenseth, who finished 12th in non-chase points, had 77 watermills, an average of 2.13 per race this season. In the entire decade, nobody has ever averaged 3 watermills throughout a season.

Think about what this means for crew chiefs deciding race strategy. If you can walk away from each race with your 3 watermills by finishing in the top 10, do you really want to risk going for the win, when the possible bad outcome is you finish off the lead lap?

**Example 1: Fuel-mileage game**

You can fill up right now on caution and guarantee yourself a top-10 finish. The other option is to stay out and hope your fuel will make it to the end. Reward is a win; risk is you run out of gas and finish off the lead lap.

A top-10 guarantees 3 watermills.

A win gets you 4 watermills.

Finishing off the lead lap gets you 1.

So if you had a 50/50 shot of making it, the risk-weighted watermill score is .5*4 + .5*1 = 2.5 Watermills, which is *LESS* than the guaranteed top 10. In fact, you’d need at least a 67 percent chance of making it to get your risk-weighted Watermill score back up to 3 points, the same as your guaranteed top 10. Then you’d have .666*4+.333*1 = 3.0, the same as the guaranteed top 10. (Hope you were able to follow that. My e-mail is at the bottom of the article if you would like me to clarify.)

This math suggests that in most cases, unless you are almost absolutely sure you can make it all the way, you are better off not risking your top-10 to go for the win.

However, if you were running back in the pack, and filling up the tank would guarantee you a lead-lap finish OUTSIDE the top 10, then your math is very different. Filling up the tank guarantees you 2 watermills, but stretching fuel means you might win (4 watermills) or finish off the lead lap (1 watermill). Now the math is much easier, because you are risking less. All you need is better than a 33 percent chance of being able to stretch fuel for the risk to be worth it.

By just focusing on whether you’ll win, get a top-10, and finish on the lead lap, a crew chief can more quickly and easily come up with the best risk/reward strategy without having to worry about the more complicated points scheme. As we’ve shown, if you can win the competition of Watermill Scores, you will also win the championship.

**Example 2: Potential flat tire?**

Many times we’ve heard a driver complaining that he might have a flat tire. Or we have seen instances where there is a fender rubbing the tire, and nobody is sure whether that will cut it down flat. Sometimes it’s not obvious if the tire is actually going down, so what’s a crew chief to do?

Go back to the Watermill Score. You get: 1 watermill for finishing a race, 1 watermill for staying on the lead lap. Even on bad days, if you can just get out with 2 watermills, that’s not too bad. As we’ve seen, the best drivers average less than 3 watermills per race. So a few 2s won’t kill you, but a few zeros will.

If you pit on green, you’ll probably lose a lap and potentially never recover. If you stay out, and the tire does go bust, you’ll probably crash the car in the wall and won’t finish the race. How do you approach it?

- If you are already off the lead lap, go ahead and come in to fix the tire. At this point your best bet is to get 1 watermill for finishing the race, so you lose nothing extra by falling back another lap or two. Come in and pit, get the new tires.
- If you are on the lead lap, outside the top 10, you have 2 watermills right now. Lose a lap to pit and you have 1 watermill. Stay out and crash and you get zero watermills. Stay out and nothing happens, you keep your 2 watermills (with some potential upside of reaching the top 10.) The math here suggests you only pit if you think there is more than a 50 percent chance of the tire actually being flat. If you are just guessing, and you think it’s less than a 50 percent chance of being a flat, stay out.
- If you are on the lead lap, in the top 10, you’d now have 3 watermills if the race ended now. Again your options are to crash out, lose laps by pitting or stay in the top 10 by staying out. In this case you only pit if you are more than 66 percent sure that it’s a flat. Even a 50/50 guess is worth staying out, because your risk weighted Watermill Score in that case is .5*3 + .5*1 = 1.5.
- Similarly, if you are leading the race, then you only pit if you are more than 75 percent sure you have a flat. Since it’s such a big loss to lose those laps, you might as well take the chance on getting your full 4 watermills, stay out and see what happens.

Again, without thinking about the complicated points system, crew chiefs can very quickly think about risk/reward and whether it’s worth pitting now. This depends on where you are running on the track. Be smart about accumulating watermills and you will do well in the points standings.

**Example 3: Four tires, two tires or no tires?**

If you are in the top 10 right now, going into the last stop of the race, and fuel mileage isn’t a concern, what is your tire strategy?

If you finish in the top 10, you get 3 watermills. If you take four tires, you can guarantee yourself a top 10.

If you take no tires, let’s say that gives you a 20 percent chance of winning (4 watermills), 50 percent chance of finishing in the top 10 (3 watermills), and 30 percent chance of finishing below the top 10 (watermills). The weighted average of all this is .2*4+.5*3+.3*2 = 2.9, or worse than the guaranteed 3.0 you could have had by taking four tires. As long as the chance of falling outside the top 10 is higher than your chance of winning, then it’s a bad strategy. You need your chance of winning to be higher than your chance of falling outside the top 10 for this to be a good idea.

Let’s say by taking two tires you change your chances to 30 percent winning, 60 percent staying in the top 10, and 10 percent falling out the top 10. In this case it makes sense to go with the two tire strategy, since the risk-weighted watermill average here is .30*4+.60*3+.10*2 = 3.2, better than the 3.0 you’d get for taking four tires.

Again, these examples do not focus on what specific place you are in or what your competitors in the standings are doing. I also do not give you the specific percentages for what different gambles are worth. That’s where a good crew chief comes in, using his smarts and experience. What I am suggesting is a simple way to take those percentages, risk-weight them to the Watermill Score, and be able to more simply and quickly come up with appropriate race-time strategy. Because the overall points system is too complicated to quickly figure out, by following this simpler program, and thinking about the four simple tasks (winning, top 10s, lead lap finishes, finishing the race), this strategy can help teams look past all of the endless combinations of results and focus only on the four tasks that matter, and that can help win a championship.

After his win in Phoenix on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson's lead is now 108 points over Mark Martin. We almost don't even need a probability table for this week, but let's go ahead and check it out anyway. (Can you tell I’m a Martin guy?)

1) First off, everybody from third place on down is eliminated. That includes you, Jeff Gordon.

2) Martin needs to outscore Johnson by 109 points or more in the last race at Homestead in order to win the title. Obviously, that's a tough task, basically requiring that Johnson has some sort of major problem.

Let's take a look at examples of Martin outscoring Johnson big-time from earlier this season:

]]>

After his win in Phoenix on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson’s lead is now 108 points over Mark Martin. We almost don’t even need a probability table for this week, but let’s go ahead and check it out anyway. (Can you tell I’m a Martin guy?)

1) First off, everybody from third place on down is eliminated. That includes you, Jeff Gordon.

2) Martin needs to outscore Johnson by 109 points or more in the last race at Homestead in order to win the title. Obviously, that’s a tough task, basically requiring that Johnson has some sort of major problem.

Let’s take a look at examples of Martin outscoring Johnson big-time from earlier this season:

A) In the spring Richmond race, Martin finished fifth and Johnson finished 36th, for a difference of 100 points.

B) In the spring Michigan race, Johnson ran out of gas and finished 22nd, while Martin won. Martin outscored him by 83 points in that race.

C) The Labor Day weekend in Atlanta saw Martin finish fifth and Johnson 36th for a difference in 95 points.

D) Obviously just last week at Texas, Martin finished fourth and Johnson was 38th for a point difference of 111 points.

3) As we see, there have been cases this year where Martin has finished many points ahead of Johnson, and it’s possible that will happen again. Not likely, but possible. That’s why three percent is still something.

4) You never know. Let’s go, Mark!

Related links:

Title race would be close under different point system

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Replacing crew chiefs has not helped Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Jimmie Johnson found yet another way to beat the competition Sunday, this time during a bizarre finish at Talladega. As much as this Mark Martin fan hates to say it, Johnson is going to coast to the title unless he has three bad races in a row. And what are the odds Chad Knaus is going to let that happen?

First off, we can officially eliminate Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers from contention. Anybody who is more than 483 points behind can't catch Johnson. After next week's race, anybody 322 points back will be eliminated. Of course, we know we don't have to wait that long for the official elimination, because our advanced math already tells us only two guys have a chance at catching Johnson, and that chance is really small. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have a combined 1.4 percent of beating Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson found yet another way to beat the competition Sunday, this time during a bizarre finish at Talladega. As much as this Mark Martin fan hates to say it, Johnson is going to coast to the title unless he has three bad races in a row. And what are the odds Chad Knaus is going to let that happen?

First off, we can officially eliminate Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers from contention. Anybody who is more than 483 points behind can’t catch Johnson. After next week’s race, anybody 322 points back will be eliminated. Of course, we know we don’t have to wait that long for the official elimination, because our advanced math already tells us only two guys have a chance at catching Johnson, and that chance is really small. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have a combined 1.4 percent of beating Johnson.

How could Johnson lose the title? Take a look at the results of three races earlier this year: Richmond (May), Michigan (June) and Atlanta (September). In those races, Johnson finished 36th, 22nd and 36th. Jeff Gordon finished 8th, 2nd and 8th. Mark Martin finished 5th, 1st and 5th. If the next three races have results similar to those three, then Johnson would lose. In that case, Martin would win with 6,564 points, Gordon would be second at 6,520, and Johnson would be third with 6,470.

Obviously this is not a likely scenario – cherry-picking three of Johnson’s worst races and hoping that pattern repeats itself consecutively. This just shows that it’s not likely, but still possible. It’s Johnson’s title to lose.

Consider another example: Martin has 6,064 points. The maximum he can earn from now until the end of the season is 195 times 3, or 585 points. That would leave him with 6,649 points. Johnson has 6,248 points, so he needs another 401 points to beat Martin’s maximum. That’s an average of 134 points per race over the final three races. Tenth place is awarded 134 points, so if Johnson rides around and gets 10th place each week, there is no way he loses the title.

I wonder if Jimmie and Chad will start taking it easy now.

*Related links:*

Johnson and Gordon would be tied if NASCAR used F1 scoring system

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Replacing crew chiefs has not helped Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Following Sunday's race in Martinsville we have a new, updated championship probability table. As always, the numbers are determined by using past results from this season to predict future success.

]]>Following Sunday’s race in Martinsville we have a new, updated championship probability table. As always, the numbers are determined by using past results from this season to predict future success.

1) With the exception of the already-eliminated Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson’s second-place finish added to his lead against all of his Chase competitors.

2) There really isn’t much to say here, with Johnson pulling off finishes like this. It’s going to take a wreck for him to lose this title. And that assumes his competitors are able to finish clean at the same time.

3) Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon are really the only two guys with a reasonable shot at catching Johnson.

4) I know some people like to wait for drivers to be "officially mathematically eliminated," so with four races to go, any driver more than 644 points will be out. Technically, all 12 drivers are within that number. After next week, all drivers 483 points behind officially will be knocked out.

5) But we don’t need to wait until next week because half of the field has no chance of winning the championship anyway. And if you consider Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch as practically having no chance, that leaves eight guys on the outs.

6) I don’t think having a blowout like this was the intention when the Chase was created. The ironic part is that if there was no Chase system right now, the top three drivers would be separated by just 122 points. In fact, the Chase system has widened that number, making the championship less competitive than it otherwise would have been. Click here to see how I made this point last year as well.

7) Not much else to say this week other than, "Will Johnson wreck?"

*(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 **36races@gmail.com*.)

*Related links:*

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Replacing crew chiefs has not helped Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With a win in Charlotte on Saturday, Jimmie Johnson has taken a commanding lead in his quest to win a fourth straight title.

]]>

With a win in Charlotte on Saturday, Jimmie Johnson has taken a commanding lead in his quest to win a fourth straight title.

1) Johnson has scored three wins in the last four races. In each of those wins, he also earned bonus points for leading the most laps.

2) The top four drivers, all in Hendrick-powered equipment, now have a more-than 99 percent chance of winning the championship. That’s up from 94 percent last week.

3) Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, by finishing outside the top 10, each lost 12 percent from their title chances.

4) Kurt Busch’s crew chief Pat Tryson might leave the team early if it is out of the title hunt. I wonder if having less than a 1 percent chance counts as being out.

5) We now have four drivers with zero chance of winning the title. Bad nights from Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin knocked them out. Good luck next year.

6) The previous item is being generous, because I technically haven’t eliminated Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle. But their combined chance of winning is about one in a thousand. Most likely all three of them will be eliminated after the next race at Martinsville.

7) The question now is can Martin, Stewart or Jeff Gordon come back to top Johnson? There is a lot of racing left, and freak accidents happen at Martinsville and Talladega, so maybe they can make up lost ground if Johnson suffers bad luck.

8) Remember back to the summer, with 6 races to go before the Chase started, Brian Vickers only had a six percent chance of making it in. He rolled off a great stretch of performances and qualified. That means the three guys behind Johnson still have a shot at getting it done.

9) For a refresher on how probability is determined, go here.

*(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 **36races@gmail.com*.)

*Related links:*

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Replacing crew chiefs has not helped Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The championship probability table underwent a major shakeup this week thanks to Jimmie Johnson’s win in Fontana. (For a refresher on how probability is determined, go here.)

1) Johnson was the big winner in every department. He won the race, took the points lead and gained 18 percentage points here, moving from a 24 percent chance of winning the title to 42 percent. That almost doubles his next competitor.

The championship probability table underwent a major shakeup this week thanks to Jimmie Johnson’s win in Fontana. (For a refresher on how probability is determined, go here.)

1) Johnson was the big winner in every department. He won the race, took the points lead and gained 18 percentage points here, moving from a 24 percent chance of winning the title to 42 percent. That almost doubles his next competitor.

2) Fortunately for Mark Martin, his fourth-place finish kept him within striking distance of the points lead, and his 22 percent title chance is the same as last week. He hasn’t really lost any ground versus the competition as a whole.

3) Tony Stewart, despite working his tail off for fifth place, took a bigger hit, losing 6 percentage points.

4) The biggest loser of the group was Denny Hamlin, who went from a 6 percent chance to virtually zero after his crash on a restart.

5) Six drivers have been virtually eliminated after four Chase races. That’s a big shakeup.

6) The top four Hendrick-powered cars now have a combined 94 percent chance of winning the title.

7) Despite the TV announcers calling this one of the closest Chases ever, I see the data showing a big divide between who has a shot and who does not.

*(All Left Turns contributor Dale Watermill is the creator of the Watermill Score and edits the racing statistics blog **36 Races*. *E-mail him at **36races@gmail.com*.)

*Related links:*

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Replacing crew chiefs has not helped Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With three Chase races down and seven to go, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson have emerged as strong favorites, with Mark Martin nipping on their heels and Jeff Gordon still lurking in contention.

]]>With three Chase races down and seven to go, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson have emerged as strong favorites, with Mark Martin nipping on their heels and Jeff Gordon still lurking in contention.

Championship probability table notes:

1) Obviously the big winner in Kansas was Stewart, as he halved the points gap with Martin, and in doing so doubled his percentage chances of winning the title. What was once a two-man race between Johnson and Martin is now a three-man race that includes Stewart. You can also throw Gordon in there. He still has a great shot at winning the title, despite his lower standing in the points.

2) Is it any coincidence that three of the greatest drivers of this generation have won the first three Chase races? This part of the year is when the best rise to the top, and we are seeing that again. No surprise to see Gordon right there with the three race winners.

3) Juan Pablo Montoya is the only driver with top fives in each of the three Chase races. However, he only had two top fives in the first 26 races, so it is unclear how hot he can stay in the final seven. Remember, the probability table is based on past finishes predicting future results. If Montoya does keep getting top fives, obviously his percentage chances will keep growing on this table.

4) Martin and Johnson’s top 10 runs didn’t do much to help or hurt their causes; it kept them in as much contention as before.

5) We can now add Brian Vickers to our list of "his chance is so low we need to go past the decimal point to show it." Congrats on showing everybody your place in the Chase was indeed a fluke.

*(All Left Turns contributor Dale Watermill is the creator of the Watermill Score and edits the racing statistics blog **36 Races*. *E-mail him at **36races@gmail.com*.)

*Related links:*

Championship probability table: Johnson passes Stewart

Winning in NASCAR is like counting cards

Chase bonus points are meaningless

Jimmie Johnson has most points at Chase tracks this season

The Watermill Score: How to win a Sprint Cup title

Replacing crew chiefs has not helped Dale Earnhardt Jr.