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Stat Sheet: Who Statistically Has the Best Chance To Make the Playoffs?

The playoffs are right around the corner.

With just three races left, drivers near the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff cut line have little opportunity to improve in points or potentially capture a win in the final three races of the season. Let’s take a look at how the drivers around the cutoff are faring going into the final three races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Watkins Glen International and Daytona International Speedway.

I will look at the drivers who sit between 15th and 19th on the bubble and assume that no new winners will shake up the playoff bubble in order to see who — on points — could statistically make the playoffs with the bubble as it is.

I will also consider races ran from 2015 onward.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at Michigan: The Playoff Bubble Battle Is on — But Without Chase Elliott

Who can conquer the Brickyard?

For the Indianapolis road course, NASCAR will be heading to the twisting layout of the track for the third time ever. With international competition such as Shane van Gisbergen and Brodie Kostecki coming to Indianapolis to grace the Brickyard with their talents, it will be difficult to see a new winner from the full-time field. However, here are what the numbers say about the six bubble drivers and how they match up at Indianapolis road course:

DriverAvg. finishDNFsAvg. stage pts.Points inPoints out
Wallace904+58+67
Gibbs1700+30
McDowell1914.5-30
Suarez32.510-5-20
Allmendinger400-24-11
Bowman24.510-44-51

In Bubba Wallace’s case, his finish of fifth last year was a result of the same pass-in-the-grass move that Chase Briscoe had to use when he was moved off track by Denny Hamlin. The difference is that Briscoe was penalized, while Wallace wasn’t.

Another caveat to these numbers is that now there are not stage cautions at the road courses. The numbers pertaining to how many stage points are rewarded would be slightly skewed.

With poor, limited numbers at Indianapolis, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman are projected to lose a substantial amount of points to the cutoff. But both drivers have DNFs at the track in one of the two races that skew their numbers down.

The cutoff would be tied between Ty Gibbs and Michael McDowell based on the numbers coming out of Indianapolis, setting up a tight battle heading to upstate New York. Additionally, AJ Allmendinger tremendously improves based on his incredible record so far at the road course.

With the calamity set after Indianapolis, Watkins Glen will surely change the picture even more.

Who Masters the Windy Turns of Watkins Glen?

With two races left, NASCAR would roll into Watkins Glen with one of the tightest cutoff line battles in recent memory.

With the talent and background that McDowell and Allmendinger have put together in their careers at Watkins Glen, the playoff bubble would surely change after another thrilling road course race at one of NASCAR’s longest running road courses.

DriverAvg. finishDNFsAvg. stage pts.Points inPoints out
Wallace27.810+67+48
Gibbs26000-17
McDowell13.804.50+12
Suarez1204.8-20-18
Allmendinger10.801.3-11-12
Bowman18.203-51-64

Certain notes should be made about the driver’s stats at the Glen.

Allmendinger’s win in 2014 is not calculated within the parameters of the statistics. With that being said, he still has the best average finish of all the drivers battling at the cutoff line.

Just like at Indianapolis, the stage points aren’t as reliable for this season’s version of stage racing. Since the caution flew for stages from 2017-22, many of those who led pitted to stay on the winning strategy, while others who stayed out collected the stage points in order to battle for the playoff cutline.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Are Saturday Doubleheaders the Answer to Sunday Delays?

While some drivers boast as many as seven starts at the Glen, Gibbs has only started once, which puts him at a disadvantage when looking at his numbers.

With a mediocre average finish at Watkins Glen for Bowman, it would put him in a must-win situation for the reigning Daytona 500 pole sitter for the final race.

Wallace would maintain a sizable gap going into Daytona without any new winners, almost locking himself into the 2023 playoffs.

With the data calculated, McDowell would take a manageable cushion heading into the final regular-season race over Suarez and Allmendinger, who now sit 16 points behind the 2021 Daytona 500 champion.

Daytona: The Final Showdown

Daytona is sure to put on a show regardless of the setting, but making it the cutoff race makes this race difficult to go by the numbers on. However, with the data present, here’s how Daytona would shake down by the numbers:

DriverAvg. finishDNFsAvg. stage pts.Points inPoints out
Gibbs1902.5-17-20
McDowell15.933.3+12+6
Suarez26.891.3-18-31
Allmendinger9.401.6-12-6

According to the statistics, McDowell would edge out Allmendinger, who has the best average finish of all the bubble drivers in our test at all three tracks remaining on the schedule. McDowell would edge out Allmendinger by only six points, followed by Gibbs 20 back and Suarez 31 behind.

Again, Gibbs has the unfortunate stat of having just two starts at Daytona while some of the more experienced drivers have up to 12 starts.

But that’s just what the numbers say.

Many say numbers never lie, but with the Next Gen car, the talent pool coming into Indianapolis, the pressure of the playoff bubble and the threat of new winners emerging, the fight for the playoffs will be thrilling and spectacular.

About the author

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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dawg

I’ve never liked the chase, playoffs, or whatever they choose to call it next.

But that having been said, & knowing that like it’ or loathe it’ it’s here to stay.

The current win & you’re in, limited to 16 cars, I think is too many. almost half the field will start this. With eliminations every 3 rounds feels too contrived.
One bad outing can lead to elimination.

I’d much rather see it the way it started out. Race the regular season, the top 10 cars make the playoff, then the top points car at the end, wins the Championship. That way the focus stays on the contenders throughout the entire playoffs. Plus this gives us a stronger field, & the most deserving Champion.

This chasing the “game seven moment” is bogus. So far NASCAR has been spared having a non eligible team win the final race. true that could happen in either format, & has happened. But it’s more likely in the current one.

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