Finally finished archiving the Truck Series

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2012 by Sean Wrona

Yeah, I know it took long enough, but I really wanted to finish before the new year started.  As with Nationwide, I have not entered the car owners and crew chiefs yet nor have I uploaded video links.  I’ll try to do that stuff in the next month sometime while waiting for my next poll to close.  This poll will expire at the end of January, but there are no guarantees I’m going to instantly archive whatever wins the next poll on February 1.  I’m kind of burnt out at the moment.

For my next poll, I replaced the Truck Series with the Grand-Am Continental Tire Series.  I know that it’s not the most exciting series I could have chosen but my fear is that if I had picked a more popular series such as USAC Champ Car, World Rally Championship, BTCC, USAC Silver Crown, IMSA GT, World of Outlaws, etc… I would simply not be able to obtain the information for the earlier seasons and I am only listing series where I believe complete results are readily accessible without building an expensive library (which I cannot afford at the moment).  I realize I don’t have access to complete NHRA records either, so maybe this is not a valid excuse.  I know motorsport.com used to have a complete archive of AAA/USAC history but this has been removed and I haven’t been able to find any Greg Fielden-style books for IndyCar (even out of print) that offer complete box scores for seasons in the ’60s and ’70s (I did find one such USAC book for one season and now own it…1972 I believe but I can’t find any evidence that any other annuals of that nature were ever published).  If anyone knows of books that offer that level of detail for any of the more popular series I have mentioned (if I can afford them – there’s no way I could afford to collect all the WRC annuals) I will consider adding them to my future polls.  There’s still a considerable variety of options.

I’m not interested in archiving any more stock car series (except IROC, if it wins this poll or a subsequent poll) until I’ve archived most of the other top-level series.  This is not the site most people go to for NASCAR statistics.  Although I know I need to have Cup, Nationwide, and trucks to be credible for a mostly-American audience, I would FAR rather archive series in different arenas of motorsport that few other sites are covering, which would expand the versatility and credibility of this site more than adding ARCA would, since this isn’t the site people primarily go to for stock car results.  The stock car niche is taken so given my choice, I’d personally want to move into touring car series next to expand my breadth, but you make the call.

Nationwide is on the site

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2012 by Sean Wrona

Forgive me for the stupid pun. In my most recent poll for which series to archive next, the NASCAR Busch/Nationwide Series won. I wasn’t too thrilled since I dislike the series ever since it lost its identity in the early 2000s after the Cup drivers took over the series, it is well-archived in several other places, and it took longer to archive than several other series would have. However, I appreciate my users so I decided to follow the poll result.

It’s not COMPLETELY done, of course. I do not have data available for Busch Series lap leaders prior to the year 1995 (I do own several NASCAR Preview and Press Guides from prior to that year, but they only provide top five finishers for each race and not complete box scores). I know the data exists elsewhere on other sites but I’m not going to take it from another tertiary source such as another racing statistics website. If somebody knows where to find box scores from 1982 to 1994 (or some other equivalent secondary source), let me know. I also still have to enter the owners and crew chiefs for each Busch Series entrant. That will be easy for the modern Jayski team chart era of course but for the years prior to 1995, I believe a LOT of that data has probably even been lost to history. I’ll do the best I can with the owners and crew chiefs eventually, but I don’t see that as a very high priority at the moment. I will also eventually (probably months from now) add links to YouTube videos for each Busch race that has been uploaded there. I’m not sure how many people use my video links for other series, but I still think that is one of the main features that distinguishes my site from others in the field.

I’m putting up another poll right now for the next series to archive. I’m going to have it expire at the end of September. I may enter all the above Busch data in the intervening period, but I may also take a break. Entering a series that has existed for 30 years in a three month period or less is pretty exhausting even for me…

Changing direction

Posted in Uncategorized on May 9, 2012 by Sean Wrona

I know some visitors might be disappointed, but I’ve completely changed my mind from my blog post three months ago, and I have decided to remove the biography pages from my website. Not only were many of them out of date, they were generally far too long and I struggled in my attempts to edit them to make them more concise, not to mention that some of my comments in them were probably not professional enough. Although I am good at writing career summaries, I am not especially skilled in writing about more personal matters. No other primarily racing statistics sites that I know of attempted to include biographies and I believe that’s the reason why. I would rather enter new series and compile new innovative lists than attempt to maintain biography pages for hundreds of drivers (as I would really have to do in order to be serious in that regard, considering the lengths of the pages I wrote for most IndyCar and NASCAR champion drivers). Doing this along with updating all races, the all-racing schedule on my site, and adding video links for each race as it is uploaded onto YouTube was probably a bit too much. Removing the biographies is one less thing to think about and should make it easier to add the new drivers in the remaining series that I am intending to cover. I also let my message forum expire and removed the link to my chat room since I don’t believe either of them were drawing any traffic. I want to focus on just the stats from now on since I know that they are probably the main draw of my site. I still might eventually write race summaries in the “race notes” section because they do not need to be in depth to the same degree and do not need to have emotional content like a good biography would, which I do not write about well.

Following the lead of sports-reference.com, which I am now working for, I may offer links to drivers’ official websites and/or Twitter accounts. I’m also considering an ambitious global links page at some point where I link all the official sites of drivers, car owners, tracks, sanctioning bodies, and so on on one page. I think that would be a much better fit on my site than the biographies ever were.

If you’re one of the few people actually reading this blog, you will no doubt have noticed I now have a poll on my front page for which series I should archive next. This will expire on May 31. While I intend to cover all the series I have listed there at some point, I will archive whichever series wins that poll next. I already have complete driver lists for all those series and several others besides.

Although it was just a small thing I did tonight, I also made a list of celebrity drivers on my Drivers page…drivers who were famous in other fields rather than drivers who became famous by driving or became famous in automotive industries generally (Louis Chevrolet, Colin Chapman, Roger Penske). That list will greatly expand if I ever cover Trans-Am or IMSA. I doubt you’ll find many celebrity lists anywhere that include British lords, computer programmers, actors, musicians, fighter aces, and cult leaders in the same context. I’m interested in trying to subdivide drivers and/or owners in all sorts of different ways.

I’m no longer interested in more sentimental material in the way that I was but I’m still interested in developing the site. What else would you like to see here?

Site updates

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 by Sean Wrona

I’ve made a few recent updates to race-database.com this year.

Above you will see the new logo that my high school classmate Dan Therre made for my site that is brighter and flashier than the previous logos, along with slicker-looking link buttons.

More importantly, after not doing a 2011 all-racing schedule page, I did make one for this year, where I included all of this year’s races in a great variety of series (indeed, a greater variety of series than I covered in 2010). These series are: Auto GP, ALMS, ARCA, Blancpain Endurance Series, BTCC, CARS Pro Cup, DTM, ELMS, F1, F2, F2000, British F3, F3 Euroseries, ATS Formel 3 Cup, Italian F3, All-Japan F3, European F3 Open, FIA GT1, FIA GT3, V8 Supercars Development Series, Grand-Am (Rolex and Continental Tire), GP2, GP3, IndyCar, Indy Lights, MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, NASCAR (Camping World Truck, Canadian Tire, Corona, K&N Pro Series, Nationwide, Sprint Cup, Modified, and Southern Modified), NHRA (Funny Car, Motorcycle, Pro Stock, and Top Fuel), SCCA (Trans-Am and World Challenge), Star Mazda, USAC (Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown), V8 Supercars, V8 Utes, World Endurance Championship, World of Outlaws, WRC, World Series by Renault, and WTCC. I also added some standalone races such as the Dakar Rally, 24 Hours of Nuerburgring, 24 Hours of Dubai, and 12 Hours of Bathurst. Are there any other races or series that anyone thinks should be covered? This is located at http://race-database.com/schedule/schedule.php.

Additionally, if you haven’t seen my many YouTube playlists, I have made playlists for what I believe is every NASCAR Winston/Sprint Cup, CART/Champ Car, and IRL/IndyCar race ever uploaded onto YouTube sorted in order by year, which may be of interest to some. It is helpful to me so that I can provide and maintain YouTube links on each race’s results page. These are located at http://www.youtube.com/user/arenasnow/videos?view=pl.

The next things I am likely to do (though perhaps not immediately) are updating my biography pages and the race notes sections of individual race results (to discuss notable incidents in each race, some of which might not be easily detected by looking at the race results alone). I’m well aware that after Dan Wheldon’s death, his biography was one of the most-observed pages and I don’t believe I updated it since about the time he signed for Panther Racing, which was about three years ago. I may rewrite many of the biographies at some point because I think many of them were actually too long and went into too much detail, a level of detail that I would be unlikely to replicate for less famous drivers or drivers who specialized in less famous series. By writing shorter and hopefully more readable biographies, I should be able to cover a wider variety of drivers and not provide too much detail towards drivers I am more familiar with.

I haven’t added coverage of a new series in a while (since late 2010), and I might add a few series this year, but I’m not sure what to cover next. WRC is probably the most prestigious series but the issue there is that I like to archive entire series results and the results are largely unavailable for this series, especially before the 2000s. USAC Champ Car (IndyCar racing from 1956-1978 plus the subsequent Indy 500s through 1995 and a few assorted other races) is also a strong candidate for the next series I’d include due to its prominence and considering many elite drivers raced there in this period. Although the series was kind of a joke given its overwhelming NASCAR bias, I might include something like IROC simply because I think I could enter the complete archive of races in a week or less. Since my site’s user base skews American, I may violate my initial rules and cover minor-league feeder series like the NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and Firestone Indy Lights soon, but I’d preferably like to include other major leagues first. NHRA is also another series I’m interested in and although the data from 1997 to present is available on their site, the previous several decades are not. There are also layout considerations here, since a results page modeled after my current results pages wouldn’t exactly work for elimination-style racing. As far as prestige is concerned, series like the WEC (which has a very short history and hence might be considered soon), WTCC, and FIA GT1 may merit being included soon. A1GP and Superleague Formula, two racing series I was considering covering, seemed to be very short-lived and not as significant players on the world racing stage as I thought they might become. What do my users think I should cover next?

Finally, one of my traditional principles was that I included only points races only (thereby excluding races such as the non-championship Formula One events of the ’50s-’70s, the Busch Clash/Bud Shootout and Winston/Sprint All-Star Race, and the CART Marlboro Challenge races at Nazareth). This also meant that I excluded races that were initially scheduled but cancelled before they were completed. In the wake of the deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli, should I list the incomplete results for those two races or not? I know both of those races had barely started before the tragedies occurred, but considering they were started, maybe they should be listed here. In the grand scheme of things, of course it doesn’t matter…

Your thoughts are welcome, and sorry I haven’t updated this blog in nearly a year and a half.

Who has had the strongest equipment?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 by Sean Wrona

If you actually cared to read that long nerdy tome I just posted, it was indeed leading someplace.

I have ranked all the NASCAR Cup drivers with 25 or more starts on horsepower tracks below according to percent beat, which I used to determine who in theory had the best equipment. I am limiting the list to only drivers with two or more wins in the Cup Series to make the list more readable and shorter.

Rex White – 75.93
Jimmie Johnson – 73.92
Dale Earnhardt – 72.65
Joe Weatherly – 72.63
Fred Lorenzen – 71.71
Jeff Gordon – 70.24
Tony Stewart – 70.18
Carl Edwards – 69.97
Matt Kenseth – 68.92
Ned Jarrett – 68.91
Darel Dieringer – 67.35
David Pearson – 66.59
Pete Hamilton – 66.54
Bobby Allison – 66.05
Bob Welborn – 65.28
Kevin Harvick – 65.26
Mark Martin – 65.19
Richard Petty – 65.16
LeeRoy Yarbrough – 65.13
Clint Bowyer – 64.51
Cale Yarborough – 64.42
Jack Smith – 64.33
Fireball Roberts – 64.31
Ernie Irvan – 64.16
Davey Allison – 64.02
Marvin Panch – 63.98
Denny Hamlin – 63.54
Jim Paschal – 63.43
Jeff Burton – 63.40
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 62.72
Greg Biffle – 62.11
Rusty Wallace – 61.61
Kurt Busch – 61.38
Buddy Baker – 61.34
Kyle Busch – 60.75
Kasey Kahne – 60.69
Dale Jarrett – 60.54
Donnie Allison – 60.15
Bobby Isaac – 60.13
Bill Elliott – 60.00
James Hylton – 59.58
Paul Goldsmith – 59.40
Darrell Waltrip – 58.95
Alan Kulwicki – 58.41
Terry Labonte – 57.90
Benny Parsons – 57.88
Junior Johnson – 57.61
Ricky Rudd – 57.50
Bobby Labonte – 57.15
Jamie McMurray – 57.13
Harry Gant – 56.78
Tim Richmond – 56.14
Morgan Shepherd – 56.02
Tiny Lund – 55.76
Ryan Newman – 55.67
Brian Vickers – 55.35
Sterling Marlin – 55.09
Charlie Glotzbach – 53.08
Geoff Bodine – 52.46
Neil Bonnett – 51.75
David Reutimann – 51.49
Jimmy Pardue – 51.48
Jeremy Mayfield – 51.33
Ward Burton – 51.11
Juan Pablo Montoya – 50.00
Michael Waltrip – 49.63
Buck Baker – 49.46
Kyle Petty – 49.26
Jimmy Spencer – 49.12
Ken Schrader – 49.02
Elmo Langley – 48.92
Elliott Sadler – 47.81
Bobby Hamilton – 47.14
Dave Marcis – 46.72
Steve Park – 44.70
A.J. Foyt – 44.05
Robby Gordon – 42.10
Joe Nemechek – 41.37
Ricky Craven – 40.95
John Andretti – 40.28
Derrike Cope – 35.01

So if you are one of those who has argued that Jimmie Johnson has had the best equipment on the track since his debut in 2002, you are correct, but Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart really aren’t that far behind. While most of the names at the back of the list are not surprising (we know that Cope, Andretti, Craven, Nemechek, and R. Gordon have had many, many underfunded rides each), it was surprising to see Steve Park and A.J. Foyt in the bottom ten for quality of equipment, especially Park given that he spent nearly his entire career at DEI and RCR, although it is worth noting that DEI was not a powerhouse his first two years there and RCR was generally struggling badly when Park was there. It may appear shocking that Buck Baker was below average in terms of equipment, when virtually all other champions are at 55% or higher. However, Baker did not compete on superspeedways very often since the superspeedway boom happened in the downswing of his career when he was an owner-driver and probably did have questionable equipment.

I compiled a similar list for the IndyCar Series, but one has to be careful with IRL comparisons because the league had three different stages, the fledgling league from 1996-2001 when it was searching for its own identity, the 2002-2007 when CART teams, foreign manufacturers and drivers, high-priced technology, and road courses began arriving en masse, and the 2008- unified series which is similar to CART in several ways and very different from the early IRL. I chose to only include data from 2008-present since that is what is relevant to today’s series.

The following drivers have made ten or more starts since 2007 on horsepower tracks, sorted by percent beat:

Scott Dixon – 91.45
Dario Franchitti – 83.62
Hélio Castroneves – 82.5
Tony Kanaan – 80.60
Ryan Briscoe – 75.06
Dan Wheldon – 69.52
Danica Patrick – 68.13
Marco Andretti – 67.67
Ed Carpenter – 62.29
Graham Rahal – 54.84
Ryan Hunter-Reay – 52.19
Vitor Meira – 47.20
Will Power – 44.12
Mario Moraes – 42.31
Justin Wilson – 41.59
Hideki Mutoh – 41.57
Raphael Matos – 37.28
Sarah Fisher – 34.47
E.J. Viso – 28.61
Tomas Scheckter – 28.52
Milka Duno – 24.11

Also there are few real surprises here, although I would have probably guessed Briscoe would have been higher than Kanaan.

Here then is the interesting part. Using the overall percent beat statistic here (http://race-database.com/rankings/rankings.php?series_id=2&stat=16), and subtracting the Cup statistics on horsepower, we obtain the following list:

Buck Baker – 13.04
Ryan Newman – 6.47
Denny Hamlin – 5.51
Neil Bonnett – 5.39
Juan Pablo Montoya – 5.00
Rusty Wallace – 4.41
Benny Parsons – 4.19
Elmo Langley – 4.09
Tim Richmond – 4.07
Kyle Busch – 4.03
Mark Martin – 3.79
Steve Park – 3.74
Bobby Allison – 3.55
Bobby Isaac – 3.42
A.J. Foyt – 3.33
Ken Schrader – 3.23
Darrell Waltrip – 3.13
Marvin Panch – 3.11
Richard Petty – 2.91
David Pearson – 2.88
Jeff Gordon – 2.67
Bobby Hamilton – 2.62
Cale Yarborough – 2.61
James Hylton – 2.58
Ricky Rudd – 2.56
Harry Gant – 2.47
Terry Labonte – 2.43
Ricky Craven – 2.32
Tony Stewart – 2.28
Geoff Bodine – 1.98
Charlie Glotzbach – 1.33
John Andretti – 1.32
Bill Elliott – 1.14
Clint Bowyer – 1.02
Jeff Burton – 0.92
Derrike Cope – 0.91
Greg Biffle – 0.89
Bobby Labonte – 0.83
Davey Allison – 0.79
Dale Earnhardt – 0.77
Kevin Harvick – 0.75
Dave Marcis – 0.56
Elliott Sadler – 0.34
Kurt Busch – 0.32
Alan Kulwicki – 0.28
Ned Jarrett – 0.23
Jimmie Johnson – 0.21
Paul Goldsmith – 0.13
Carl Edwards – 0.12

These drivers above have been more consistent on drivers’ tracks than they have been on horsepower tracks, thereby overachieving in their rides. Most of the true NASCAR legends are here, and despite how much people like to talk about Jimmie Johnson being carried by his car and his team, he has actually slightly overachieved even with the best equipment on the track, something that cannot be said of many drivers who don’t have close to Johnson’s equipment.

These drivers below meanwhile have underachieved. Judging drivers from the early era of NASCAR like Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts and Fred Lorenzen may be unfair, since equipment was much less reliable in that era and DNFs were far more common in superspeedway races than in the short track races that dominated the schedule. However, for more recent drivers, it is probably a good measure of underachievement. This is under the assumption that superspeedway driving is not a talent in and of itself, which is definitely arguable…for that reason you may quibble with drivers like Jarrett and Marlin and Irvan who dominated on superspeedways when such tracks were more reflective of talent than they may be now, but most of the true underachievers are here.

Jimmy Pardue -0.19
Jamie McMurray -0.20
David Reutimann -0.52
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -0.56
Sterling Marlin -0.62
Jeremy Mayfield -0.69
Dale Jarrett -0.86
Kyle Petty -1.06
Fireball Roberts -1.37
Robby Gordon -1.46
Michael Waltrip -1.54
Junior Johnson -1.57
Joe Nemechek -1.59
Matt Kenseth -1.93
Kasey Kahne -1.98
Brian Vickers -2.03
Jimmy Spencer -2.21
Donnie Allison -2.37
Ward Burton -2.65
Tiny Lund -2.76
Jim Paschal -3.23
Bob Welborn -3.28
Rex White -3.97
Jack Smith -3.98
Buddy Baker -4.03
Joe Weatherly -4.26
Pete Hamilton -4.66
Morgan Shepherd -5.26
Fred Lorenzen -5.75
Ernie Irvan -6.08
LeeRoy Yarbrough -6.63
Darel Dieringer -8.31

Additionally, I did the same for my average percent led statistic…the highest names on this list had the greatest difference in dominance between driver’s tracks and horsepower tracks, indicating the greatest overachievement. The lists are very similar, but many more of the true legends appear at the top, even if they appear towards the bottom of the other list.

Bobby Isaac – 10.30
Ned Jarrett – 8.08
Rex White – 6.08
Richard Petty – 5.94
Fred Lorenzen – 5.40
David Pearson – 4.66
Buck Baker – 3.82
Rusty Wallace – 3.55
Darrell Waltrip – 3.42
Denny Hamlin – 3.22
Jeff Gordon – 2.15
Tim Richmond – 1.94
Cale Yarborough – 1.92
Harry Gant – 1.89
Darel Dieringer – 1.87
Juan Pablo Montoya – 1.68
Geoff Bodine – 1.67
Tiny Lund – 1.61
Bobby Allison – 1.39
Ricky Rudd – 1.38
Paul Goldsmith – 1.23
Junior Johnson – 1.22
Bobby Hamilton – 1.21
Jeff Burton – 1.18
Ryan Newman – 1.14
Alan Kulwicki – 1.11
Jim Paschal – 0.95
Donnie Allison – 0.93
Steve Park – 0.87
Neil Bonnett – 0.71
Benny Parsons – 0.63
Kyle Petty – 0.55
A.J. Foyt – 0.55
Ricky Craven – 0.53
Robby Gordon – 0.53
Terry Labonte – 0.47
Kyle Busch – 0.45
Kurt Busch – 0.44
Clint Bowyer – 0.41
Jeremy Mayfield – 0.36
Kevin Harvick – 0.30
Jimmie Johnson – 0.27
Marvin Panch – 0.12
Ward Burton – 0.05
Dave Marcis – 0.01
Derrike Cope – 0.01
Joe Weatherly – 0.00
Tony Stewart -0.02
David Reutimann -0.03
Jimmy Spencer -0.06
Morgan Shepherd -0.11
Joe Nemechek -0.12
Bobby Johns -0.15
Dale Jarrett -0.16
Mark Martin -0.17
John Andretti -0.17
Jamie McMurray -0.18
James Hylton -0.21
Charlie Glotzbach -0.26
Elliott Sadler -0.30
Brian Vickers -0.35
Ken Schrader -0.36
Michael Waltrip -0.49
Greg Biffle -0.75
Sterling Marlin -0.81
Ernie Irvan -0.92
Kasey Kahne -0.94
Bill Elliott -1.12
Dale Earnhardt -1.14
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -1.20
Carl Edwards -1.21
Bobby Labonte -1.21
Matt Kenseth -1.77
Jack Smith -2.45
Davey Allison -3.00
LeeRoy Yarbrough -3.08
Pete Hamilton -3.28
Buddy Baker -3.32
Fireball Roberts -9.38

Obviously again several drivers are below average because they were experts on superspeedways/plate tracks (Jarrett, Irvan, Marlin, Elliott, and this time Earnhardt, mainly due to the plate tracks), but definitely others are here because they struggle elsewhere and I think this list comes closer to reflecting overachievement/underachievement, althoug I would again be easier on the older drivers who drove much worse equipment in general than today’s drivers.

Using the IndyCar list from intermediate ovals from 2008-2010 leads to perhaps easier conclusions.

Will Power – 19.89
Justin Wilson – 8.57
E.J. Viso – 7.69
Raphael Matos – 6.13
Hideki Mutoh – 5.81
Tomas Scheckter – 4.52
Ryan Hunter-Reay – 3.46
Dario Franchitti – 0.57
Vitor Meira – 0.01
Sarah Fisher -2.99
Mario Moraes -3.94
Ryan Briscoe -4.03
Milka Duno -5.47
Hélio Castroneves -5.49
Graham Rahal -5.49
Dan Wheldon -6.43
Danica Patrick -7.98
Scott Dixon -8.96
Marco Andretti -9.73
Tony Kanaan -11.53
Ed Carpenter -12.40

Of the drivers who had above average equipment from 2008 to present (in order: Dixon, Franchitti, Castroneves, Kanaan, Briscoe, Wheldon, Patrick, Andretti, Carpenter, Rahal, and Hunter-Reay), all eleven of those drivers did worse on the overall schedule except Franchitti and Hunter-Reay. The obvious conclusion is that Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, and to a lesser degree Panther, have no competition on the ovals even at this point while talented drivers from other teams can pose challenges on road courses. Hunter-Reay is the closest to average in terms of percent beat since the merger largely due to his underfunded rides with Vision and Foyt in 2009, so it is not surprising that he has performed better on road courses, but given how strong Franchitti has been on ovals, it is extremely impressive that he managed to even do better on road courses (although not unexpected given his history). The fact that he was the one driver to do stronger on driver’s tracks than intermediate ovals from Penske or Ganassi is no doubt the reason why he has now won three titles. This following list (the difference between percent beat on the overall schedule and on horsepower tracks) is deceiving because you can’t really say the Penske and Ganassi drivers are underachieving (it’s just that they have competition on the road courses which they don’t have on the ovals), but it does denote the underratedness of Wilson and historical underratedness of Power very well. It surprises me that Kanaan is lower than Danica and Marco, and although it doesn’t surprise me, it’s rather amazing that Milka still managed to underachieve on drivers’ tracks despite having an overall percent beat of 24.11, indicating that she on average doesn’t even beat a quarter of the field.

How to measure equipment strength

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 by Sean Wrona

Throughout racing, certain drivers have been criticized for relying on strong cars to overcome their deficiencies as drivers, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Danica Patrick probably leading the list. While fans can intuitively sense the underachievement of these obvious cases in recent seasons by observing Earnhardt and Patrick’s results versus their teammates, it is far harder to draw comparisons between drivers on different teams, especially if the driver on the superior team has had more success. How much of that is due to the difference in drivers and how much is due to the difference in teams?  While results are measurable, equipment is generally not, so fans traditionally have to speculate on equipment differences based on their interpretation of what they see on the track.

For some time, I’ve been trying to personally come up with a measurement for which drivers and teams have had the strongest equipment, and I think I have had considerable success. While you definitely cannot separate the driver from his/her team as top drivers will tend to have stronger equipment (in part to their ability to relay information about setups to the crew), you can make comparisons by comparing teams’ results on horsepower tracks to more difficult tracks that require driver input. I initially started this analysis for NASCAR because the track distinctions are more obvious: I judged restrictor plate tracks and 1.5-2 mile intermediate ovals as “horsepower tracks” where car differences are more significant than driver differences, which I believe to be a reasonable assumption. I included road courses, short tracks, Phoenix, Dover, Loudon, Darlington, Pocono, and Indianapolis as driver’s tracks which tend to require driver input. Interestingly, the current Sprint Cup schedule is split up exactly 50/50 between driver’s tracks and horsepower tracks with eighteen of each on the schedule since 2001 (although that balance will be broken next year with Kentucky on the schedule and one Loudon date removed).

I have two main measures of performance that I believe I invented and are used frequently on this site: percent beat and average percent led. Both statistics are fairly self-explanatory. The percent beat measures the percentage of cars on the track that a driver beat. For instance, Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the 2000 Indy 500 in his only IndyCar start, he has 100%, while Willy T. Ribbs, who finished last in his only IRL IndyCar start, is at 0%. The driver closest to the middle is Justin Wilson at 50.16%. Percent beat is a measurement of consistency that ignores differences in starting grid sizes, allowing better comparisons between drivers who competed in different eras (for instance, a CART driver who competed against 30-car fields in 1994 and a Champ Car driver who competed against 18-car fields in 2007) or different series (one could theoretically use this to compare an F1 driver from the ’70s, a CART driver from the ’80s, and a Winston Cup driver from the ’90s, but this is not advisable). Another thing I like about the percent beat statistic is that since it is on a 0-100 scale, unlike average finish, you can usually discern whether drivers have had above-average or below-average careers in terms of consistency based on whether they are above or below 50%. Average percent led is an even more self-explanatory method of measuring dominance. The laps led statistic that is frequently used is highly biased towards drivers who lead frequently in races with more laps (thus benefiting for instance superspeedway specialists like Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish over road course specialists like Will Power and Justin Wilson, simply because superspeedway races have more laps, or in NASCAR, strongly benefiting short track specialists like Rusty Wallace or Denny Hamlin rather than road course specialists like Juan Pablo Montoya or Robby Gordon, simply because short track races have more laps). Average percent led removes that bias towards specific types of tracks; as a result, it is one of the best measurements of career strength. So in order to measure equipment strength in NASCAR, I completely ignored driver’s tracks and simply calculated the percentage beat for each team on horsepower tracks only, which should give the best indication of a car’s abilities independent of the driver (although obviously the driver will still play something of a role). Given that, the teams that had the strongest to weakest equipment were as follows (updated through this weekend’s Kansas race):

Richard Childress Racing – 73.02
Hendrick Motorsports – 66.94
Roush Fenway Racing – 66.76
Joe Gibbs Racing – 62.21
Stewart-Haas Racing – 61.72
Michael Waltrip Racing – 59.79
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing – 57.33
Richard Petty Motorsports – 56.23
Penske Racing – 50.18
Red Bull Racing – 50.09
Furniture Row Motorsports – 45.42
JTG Daugherty Racing – 42.86
Wood Brothers Racing – 41.27
TRG Motorsports – 33.33
Front Row Motorsports – 32.54
Latitude 43 Motorsports – 26.84
Robby Gordon Motorsports – 26.02
Phoenix Racing – 23.02
Whitney Motorsports – 20.95
Tommy Baldwin Racing – 20.48
Germain Racing – 20.04
Braun Racing – 7.14
NEMCO Motorsports – 6.15
Prism Racing – 5.95
Gunselman Motorsports – 3.17

Just as with drivers, a team above 50% is above-average, while a team below 50% is below average. I conducted a similar analysis for the IndyCar teams on the six horsepower tracks on the schedule (Kansas, Texas, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Motegi, and Homestead) with the following results:

Chip Ganassi Racing – 87.74
Andretti Autosport – 76.01
Panther Racing – 68.51
Penske Racing – 68.39
A.J. Foyt Racing – 55.48
Newman-Haas Racing – 49.36
FAZZT Racing – 43.87
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing – 38.39
Luczo Dragon Racing – 32.79
Conquest Racing – 32.58
Dale Coyne Racing – 31.61
Sarah Fisher Racing – 25.85
KV Racing – 24.09
HVM Racing – 14.19

The Cup team ratings seem generally right although Roush, MWR, Red Bull, and Furniture Row are a bit higher than I would have guessed. The IndyCar ranking also seems decent except for the surprise of Penske in fourth; I guess Power’s inconsistency on these tracks doomed them behind Andretti Autosport (as even Marco and Danica beat Power in the oval points standing), but Panther in third is a bit of a surprise even with Wheldon and Carpenter’s great runs at Chicagoland and Kentucky. I then did this same analysis of Cup teams for years in the past dating to 1993. Some very interesting trends resulted. Anytime Roush had a stronger than usual season, its satellite teams of Yates and the Wood Brothers that it also provided engines to tended to be much higher as well, which does indicate that this is some measure of equipment strength. Several teams that collapsed pretty much declined according to this statistic from year to year with Yates declining from 68.70% (first among all teams) in 2004 in equipment strength to 58.93%, 50.20%, 44.25%, 39.02%, and 33.33% in its remaining five seasons. Bill Davis, Robby Gordon, and Chip Ganassi’s teams (the latter before the Earnhardt-Ganassi merger) had similar year-to-year declines as well that were easily identifiable. Additionally, in seasons when a generally-considered weak driver performed far better than usual, that driver’s team tended to consistently have among the best equipment on the track, the best example being Elliott Sadler in 2004 when driving for Yates (although most would have guessed Hendrick had stronger equipment this season, Yates actually had the strongest equipment of all teams and it is clear that Sadler and the then-aging Dale Jarrett were both underachieving). However, while it is clear that I am capturing something with this measurement of team strength, there were a few reasons I did not ultimately go with this particular measurement. Measuring an entire team and then comparing that team’s drivers to the overall team standards assumes that all teammates within the team are equal, and this has underrated certain teams that have some cars running better than others. I was very surprised when Hendrick Motorsports only came in first in the team rankings in 2007 (admittedly, its best season), but it is hard for me to argue that Childress was the best team in 2008, DEI was the best in 2006, Yates was in 2004, and Gibbs was in 2003 when none of those teams were fighting significantly for the title in those years; additionally some mediocre teams having better-than-usual seasons appeared higher than struggling multi-car powerhouses some seasons, such as Jasper Racing beating Childress in 2002, but I don’t think most would say Jasper was the stronger team that year. Teams like Hendrick and Roush are known to have a car or two lagging behind at all times, so comparing the #48 team to the Hendrick average does not necessarily make sense, since Johnson has definitely had better equipment than his teammates. Given that, when I ultimately conducted the analysis, I compared each driver’s career percent beat and average percent led to that driver’s career percent beat and average percent led on horsepower tracks, rather than comparing to the overall teams, but the analysis of teams nonetheless resulted in some interesting observations.

Does Power have a prayer?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2010 by Sean Wrona

Will Power enters the IZOD IndyCar Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a twelve-point lead over Dario Franchitti. Despite the fact that Power has led the points standings for the entire season with the exception of the June race at Texas Motor Speedway, Franchitti has considerably more experience on ovals than the Aussie and has beaten Power all but twice on ovals since reentering the series in 2009, outscoring him by 95 points in those nine events.

I undertook a simple calculation to determine how many times Franchitti would have beaten Power by thirteen or more points based on their previous oval results (Power would win the championship if Franchitti gained only twelve points since he has more wins). Power scored 14, 16, 18, 22, 24, 30, 31, and 35 points in his eight oval starts for Penske (discounting this year’s Indianapolis 500 because it had bonus points for qualifying which other races do not have), while Franchitti scored 14, 26, 28, 30, 30, 40, 40, and 50 points in his eight oval starts for Ganassi. Franchitti thus outscored Power’s 14 points by thirteen or more points six times, beat Power’s 16 points five times, exceeded his 18, 22, and 24 points three times, and surpassed his 30, 31, and 35 points exactly once.

Combining all these possibilities in this very rudimentary simulation, Franchitti beat Power by more than twelve points in only 23 of 64 situations, indicating that despite Franchitti’s greater oval experience and despite Franchitti winning the last two championships he has contested, the upstart Power remains a slight favorite based on their past results, but it remains very clear that the IndyCar championship could go either way just like in 2006, 2007, and 2009.

However, what happens if you limit the discussion to be cookie-cutter ovals only (here defined as Chicagoland, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas?)  This excludes the 2009 Indianapolis 500 and 2010 Iowa race, the only two races where Power beat Franchitti straight-up, and last weekend’s race at Motegi (which given its egg shape rather than the standard quad-oval shape should probably be disqualified from the discussion, as it’s probably closer to a track like Darlington or Gateway in style than it is to the other five 1.5-milers).   This is probably more accurate than the above analysis because using Indianapolis, Iowa, or Motegi results to predict Homestead may be a bit disingenuous.

Power’s one clear weakness this season has been the cookie-cutter ovals, where he has scored four of his five finishes outside the top five this season.   He has only competed on this type of track in competitive equipment five times – last season’s Kentucky race and this year’s Chicagoland, Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas races, and all five times he has been outpaced by Franchitti; in fact Power’s best performance of 24 points in the five cookie-cutter races they’ve competed against each other is worse than Franchitti’s worst performance of 28 points.   Power’s five points totals were 14, 16, 18, 22, and 24 points, while Franchitti’s were 28, 30, 30, 40, and 50 points.   Using the same kind of pseudo-simulation as before, Franchitti would beat Power by 13 or more points in 15 of 25 situations, giving him a 60% probability of winning the championship.  Since predicting Homestead by past cookie-cutters is more sensible than by ovals in general, I hereby dub Franchitti the favorite despite Power’s points lead.  That may overstate Franchitti’s odds because several of Power’s bad runs (especially Chicagoland) had to do with pit miscues and little to do with Power himself, unlike last season, when Ryan Briscoe’s crash at the end of pit road caused him to lose the championship.  It also helps Power that he has two teammates to play defense against Franchitti (just as Castroneves did at Motegi by keeping Franchitti from winning), while Franchitti only has one.  In spite of that, I think Power’s inexperience on ovals will lead to an impressive third consecutive championship for Franchitti (obviously not counting 2008 which he did not contest due to his ill-fated NASCAR experiment).

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