Who has had the strongest equipment?

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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