Dr. Diandra: The cars each playoff driver should avoid to survive Bristol

·5 min read

With only Christopher Bell locked into the next round of the playoffs, the first item on every other drivers’ to-do list is to simply survive Bristol.

The worst thing that can happen to a playoff driver is him taking himself out of the race.

The second-worst thing is for another driver take him out.

During a discussion of accidents on SiriusXM Speedway, host Dave Moody asked if some drivers tend to run into each other more than they run into other drivers.

I suspected they did, but here are the numbers.

The method

Never trust statistics unless you know what data was used, where it came from, and how the claimant arrived at their results.

I started with NASCAR’s caution list, selecting all accidents and spins involving two or more cars. For 2022, that totaled 69 incidents involving 280 cars.

Incidents at road courses, however, often don’t cause cautions. Therefore, I added the list of incidents I compiled from analyzing video of the five road course races. That provided 20 more incidents involving 48 cars.

I then identified all the pairwise correlations. That’s a fancy way of saying I found all the pairs of drivers who were in the same accidents.

For Ross Chastain, for example, I counted how many times the No. 1 car was in an accident that also involved the No. 2 car, the No. 3 car, etc. I repeated this for each driver.

Each pair of drivers’ score is the number of accidents they had in common. These numbers ranged from zero to six.

No analysis is ever absolute. So here are the caveats:

  • Counting accidents is subjective. I may not have counted one or two incidents in the road course races that someone else might. NASCAR didn’t count accidents that didn’t cautions.

  • I haven’t discriminated between two-car incidents and multi-car crashes. They all potentially hamper the driver’s finish. But drivers take two-car altercations a little more personally. They thus get more attention and we remember them better.

Who contacts the most cars?

I start by examining how many pairwise collisions each driver tallied in the 28 races this year. Again, a pairwise collision is simply an accident or spin involving both drivers.

Two of this year’s rookie class rise to the top of the list. Harrison Burton was involved in 75 pairwise interactions and Todd Gilliland in 70.

Being a rookie doesn’t necessarily mean you get tangled up with more cars. Austin Cindric had only 45 pairwise interactions.

The third driver in the overall rankings is veteran Denny Hamlin, with a 66. Aside from Burton, Gilliland and Hamlin, no driver has more than 60 pairwise collisions this year.

Six drivers score between 50 and 59.

Justin Haley holds the lowest score of all full-time drivers at 19. Other low-scoring drivers are:

Specific pairs

If collisions were random, then every car would have about the same pairwise collision score with every other car. We already know not to expect that because where cars typically run influences who collides with whom.

Cars that tend to run at the front of the field are more likely to run into other cars that run at the front of the field. The same holds true for mid-pack and back-of-pack drivers. The only exception is at superspeedways because those crashes tend to collect a broader swathe of positions.

The two drivers involved in the largest number of common incidents this year are Cindric and Burton, with a total of six. One-ninth of Cindric’s incidents included Burton.

But running position can’t entirely explain this data.

Cindric’s average running position is 17.0, which is almost five positions away from Burton’s average running position of 22.9. But playoff driver Austin Dillon has an 18.2 average running position and has no shared incidents with Burton.

Cindric and Dillon have no shared incidents, either.

Running position can, however, explain the other two drivers that have a high score with Burton. Gilliland and Corey LaJoie each have five shared accidents with the No. 21. LaJoie’s average running position is 25.4 and Gilliland’s is 23.5.

But LaJoie has only one shared accident with Gilliland.

If this makes your head spin, the diagram below may help. I denote each driver by his car number. The numbers on the arrows tell you how many shared incidents each pair has.

A graphic showing the numbers of pairwise correlations (i.e. shared accidents) for Harrison Burton and select drivers.
A graphic showing the numbers of pairwise correlations (i.e. shared accidents) for Harrison Burton and select drivers.

Aside from the Burton/Gilliland and Burton/LaJoie pairings, only two other driver pairs had five mutual encounters. Denny Hamlin shares five accidents each with Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

How to survive Bristol

The table below shows driver pairs with scores of four or more for each of the playoff drivers. These are the cars each driver should avoid if they are to survive Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, USA Network.) Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, William Byron and Alex Bowman are not included because none had any scores of four or above.

A table showing playoff drivers and which cars they most frequently find themselves in accidents with.
A table showing playoff drivers and which cars they most frequently find themselves in accidents with.

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Dr. Diandra: The cars each playoff driver should avoid to survive Bristol originally appeared on NBCSports.com