Archive for October, 2010

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.

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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.