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William Byron
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Statistically Speaking

Gauging Power Through Average Running Position

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: March 16, 2021, 6:20 pm ET

Last week Martin Truex Jr. had the second lowest odds of all winning Cup drivers in 2021. At +1100 (11/1), he was not a favorite and based on one Phoenix top-five in the past five races, he did not deserve to be. Then again, he wasn’t exactly a dark horse in the same manner as the first three winners, Michael McDowell at Daytona, Christopher Bell on the road course, William Byron at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson won the Dixie Vodka 400 with odds of +900, but given his move to Hendrick Motorsports this season and a general impression that he would need time to gel with the team, he was not the top pick of many experts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It is safe to say that the season so far has had more surprises thus far than expected results. That is not only true of the winners, but for the majority of the top-10 finishers.

The top of the order of the Instacart 500k at Phoenix Raceway finally looked like what was expected. Eighth-place Byron and ninth-place Bell might be considered slight surprises in that race, but only because of their youth and relatively few seasons at the top level.


When the results get turned on their head as they can during wild card races like the aero-restricted superspeedway events, on road courses, or when late-race cautions jumble the field, it can be helpful to look at some of the strength-based stats that NASCAR Statistical Services publishes.

This week, we will look at Average Running Position.

The chart below shows the 25 best Average Running Positions. Truex won the race last week at Phoenix. He had the strongest car in the closing laps, but he was not the strongest driver overall. That honor went to Joey Logano with an Average Running Position of 2.48 before his second-place finish.

With only five races in the books, there is not a lot to compare yet, but Logano’s average is nearly one full position better than the next one on the chart. We believe Logano showed the greatest dominance seen so far in the young season. Logano was also our top pick in the Best Bets column.

Larson sits second on the chart with a 3.40 that was earned for his Pennzoil 400 victory. While there may have been some doubt about his strength entering this race, there was not after the green flag fell. One reason this stat is important is because Larson signaled his strength the week previous when he posted the second-best Average Running Position at Homestead.

That should have been a more important consideration than his fourth-place finish in the Dixie Vodka 400. It also means that he absolutely must be on the radar for the Atlanta race and with the third-best odds this week of +625, he is getting the respect he deserves.

William Byron won the Homestead race with a 3.91 average position. No one would suggest that he lucked into the victory. He backed up that strong run with a 6.31 at Las Vegas, which also makes the list of the 25-best runs below. Bettors will want to take a long look at him this weekend in the QuikTrip 500 because his odds of +2000 at PointsBet Sportsbook make him a very attractive dark horse.

Likewise, Truex had equally solid runs on the two 1.5-mile tracks so far. His 5.22 at Homestead was the third-best in that event. He had a 7.06 average at Vegas, which was sixth-best.

The Average Running Position can also help remove some of the peaks and valleys associated with misfortune or mistakes.

Chase Elliott was the class of the field for most of the O’Reilly 253 on the Daytona road course. An untimely caution put him back in the field with time running off the clock. The sense of urgency engendered by that forced him into an error. He attempted to dive underneath Brad Keselowski exiting a corner without first clearing Denny Hamlin and the move sent him into a spin and back to 21st at the checkers.

Even though Elliott’s 21st-place finish is the one that goes into the record books, he should be evaluated in light of his second-best running position the next time the series rolls onto a road course.

Notably, the winner Bell employed the same strategy and his 6.11 Average Running Position was fourth-best for the race.

A late-race 'Big One' crash altered the finish of the Daytona 500. And one of the reasons that we track this stat is to try and determine who we think will be able to put their car in a position to win in the closing laps the next time the series hits one of the two plate tracks. Joey Logano (6.50) and Kyle Busch (5.11) both had an opportunity to win that race before they were swallowed up in a crash.

By comparison, the winner McDowell had the 15th-best average of only 13.82.

Two other notably strong runs so far this year were turned in by Hamlin (3.82) and Keselowski (3.89) last week at Phoenix. Bettors should make a note of this when the series next visits a 1.-mile flat track race in New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.

 

Driver

Avg. Running
Position

Finish

Race

Joey Logano

2.48

2

Instacart 500k

Kyle Larson

3.40

1

Pennzoil 400

Denny Hamlin

3.82

3

Instacart 500k

Brad Keselowski

3.89

4

Instacart 500k

William Byron

3.91

1

Dixie Vodka 400

Brad Keselowski

4.21

2

Pennzoil 400

Denny Hamlin

4.26

3

O’Reilly 253

Denny Hamlin

4.28

4

Pennzoil 400

Chase Elliott

4.74

21

O’Reilly 253

Kyle Larson

4.76

4

Dixie Vodka 400

Ryan Blaney

4.78

10

Instacart 500k

Joey Logano

4.84

2

O’Reilly 253

Kyle Busch

5.11

14

Daytona 500

Martin Truex Jr.

5.22

3

Dixie Vodka 400

Kevin Harvick

6.00

4

Daytona 500

Denny Hamlin

6.00

5

Daytona 500

Christopher Bell

6.11

1

O’Reilly 253

Austin Dillon

6.12

3

Daytona 500

Ryan Blaney

6.12

5

Pennzoil 400

Martin Truex Jr.

6.31

1

Instacart 500k

William Byron

6.31

8

Pennzoil 400

Joey Logano

6.50

12

Daytona 500

Martin Truex Jr.

7.06

6

Pennzoil 400

Martin Truex Jr.

7.29

12

O’Reilly 253

Kurt Busch

7.48

8

Dixie Vodka 400

CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS AFTER PHOENIX 1
POWER RANKINGS AFTER LAS VEGAS 1

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.