Makinen: NASCAR 2023 first quarter wrap-up and Geico 500 preview

April 22, 2023 03:03 AM
 

In February, I previewed the NASCAR season and shared the excitement I had for the upcoming season of betting NASCAR. My enthusiasm was based primarily on the theory that we had a full season of Next Gen car stats under our belt. With that, my simulations improved dramatically towards the end of last season. To be completely honest, the start of the ’22 season was a bankroll drain for me, as race teams took wild swings at finding the right recipes with the new cars to run well. Once this stuff finally got solidified, I felt I was back on solid ground, but there were some painful moments.

This leads me to the ’23 season so far, and I can proudly proclaim that this has been the best season I’ve enjoyed in NASCAR betting using my simulations in recent memory. The results on To Win, Top 3’s, Top 5’s, and matchups have all been solid so far. I’m here to share some of those results with you and get you excited for betting the rest of the season, starting with a typically wild and thus underdog-laden Geico 500 race at Talladega.

The first thing I want to share with you that is compared to last year, using what I call my “handicap stats,” which only take into account driver stats when they finish 95% or more of the laps in a race, the projections by Driver Rating are about 5.3% better than last year, while the projections by Average Simulation Finish position are 16.2% improved over this time last year. I’m not sure about you, but improving my own betting results by percentages like this can often make the difference in winning and losing. Here is the average margin between my projection and the actual finish for all drivers in all nine races.

1. Overall Simulation Projection vs. Actual Driver Rating: 5.30 positions (usually around 6.45)

2. Overall Simulation Projection vs. Actual Finish Position: 7.52 positions (usually around 9.0)

The other thing that I must mention at this point is that my Final Simulations (usually released on Saturdays) have been more effective than the initial simulations I put out on Tuesday. The averaging variances on the two stats listed above for the initial simulations were 6.17 and 8.08. These represent improvements of about 14% and 7% respectively for the two measures, meaning I would certainly recommend waiting until the final simulations are released if you’re using them as a foundation to bet races.

Here are some of the other key stats from my Final Simulations so far in 2023. As you analyze these numbers, consider that NASCAR races have at least 36 different drivers in each race.

-  Final Simulations have accurately pegged two outright winners, including Christopher Bell (+650) at Bristol and Tyler Reddick (+1000) at COTA. Simply betting my projected winner has thus produced a profit of 9.5 units thus far (16.5 on winners minus seven on losers)

- Only two of the nine race winners thus far were projected outside the Top 5 on my simulations, Ricky Stenhouse (19th at Daytona), and Kyle Busch (13th at Fontana). Ironically, those were the first two races of the year. Since then all seven winners were projected as Top 5 finishers.

-  Of the actual 27 Top 3 finishers this season, my final simulations pegged eight of them accurately, and five more were predicted in the Top 5.

-  Of the actual 45 Top 5 finishers this season, my final simulations pegged 18 of them correctly, a significant jump from the Top 3 results. Furthermore, only six of the Top 5 finishers were projected outside of my Top 14 in races.

Simulation Projection Results by Driver

Naturally, different drivers will have different predictability levels based on their overall consistency at certain tracks. Looking at the full-time drivers that my simulations have projected most closely in this season’s first nine races:

Rank. Driver: Average Margin

  1. Martin Truex: 2.33
  2. Noah Gragson: 3.57
  3. Christopher Bell: 4.88
  4. Darrell Wallace: 5
  5. Ty Dillon: 5.17
  6. Kevin Harvick: 5.25
  7. Kyle Larson: 5.5
  8. Chase Briscoe: 5.63
  9. Erik Jones: 5.88
  10. Alex Bowman: 5.89

When considering this Top 10 list from one year ago, these variances ranged from 5.0 to 7.33. Obviously, this is a huge improvement.

Important to note here that I only use the 95% laps completed number in deriving these figures. In my opinion, this removes a lot of fluke circumstances that can affect NASCAR stats offered elsewhere. In general, the more fluke stuff I can eliminate from handicapping, the more successful I am. In considering the driver’s Average Rating position for each race, these are the most closely projected guys:

Rank. Driver: Average Margin

  1. AJ Allmendinger: 2.14
  2. Kyle Larson: 2.5
  3. Christopher Bell: 2.63
  4. Erik Jones: 2.63
  5. Ty Dillon: 3
  6. Cody Ware: 3.14
  7. Kevin Harvick: 3.5
  8. Noah Gragson: 4.57
  9. William Byron: 4.75
  10. Harrison Burton: 4.88

Looking at the opposite side of the coin, these are the drivers that have proven most difficult to project my simulation in 2023, first by finish position. These are drivers that have either been wildly inconsistent or are out- or underperforming early expectations thus far:

Rank. Driver: Average Margin

  1. Daniel Suarez: 12.38
  2. Todd Gilliland: 11.11
  3. Ricky Stenhouse: 11
  4. William Byron: 10.38
  5. Ryan Blaney: 9.56
  6. Corey LaJoie: 9.44
  7. Denny Hamlin: 8.56
  8. AJ Allmendinger: 8.43
  9. Cody Ware: 8.14
  10. Tyler Reddick: 8.14

Now by Driver Rating:

Rank. Driver: Average Margin

  1. Todd Gilliland: 8.78
  2. Ryan Blaney: 8.11
  3. Aric Almirola: 7.71
  4. Daniel Suarez: 7.5
  5. Corey LaJoie: 7.44
  6. Ricky Stenhouse: 7.22
  7. Chris Buescher: 7.13
  8. Joey Logano: 6.71
  9. Chase Briscoe: 6.25
  10. Michael McDowell: 6.11

Driver Variations from the Norm

One of the key handicapping principles that I have always embraced in betting NASCAR is in finding drivers that are supposed to do better or worse than usual at any given race. For instance, when my final simulations typically project a driver around 15th in any given race but they are suddenly pegged 10th in a certain event, I believe that driver has betting value.

So far in 2023, there have been 71 instances that didn’t involve trouble in a race in which my final simulations projected a driver at least 3.0 positions higher than his average. Of those 71 instances, 51 (71.8%) of the projected drivers finished better than their season-average finish position, by an average of 4.19 positions.

Alternatively, when my final simulations projected a driver to finish at least three spots worse than their usual final simulation projection, 41 of the 65 (63.1%) such occurrences resulted in that driver finishing worse than his usual finish position.

Using this powerful information for handicapping purposes, these are the average final simulation projections and average finishes for the 2023 season thus far using my handicapped races (95% or better laps). Consider these going forward to spot drivers expected to do better or worse than usual.

Driver - Average Finish Simulation Projection / Average Finish Position

  • Anthony Alfredo - 34.5 / 34
  • AJ Allmendinger - 21.78 / 22.22
  • Aric Almirola - 19.44 / 23.89
  • Christopher Bell - 6.89 / 11.22
  • Josh Berry - 21.8 / 17.2
  • Josh Bilicki - 37 / 26
  • Ryan Blaney - 6.33 / 14.78
  • Alex Bowman - 9.89 / 10
  • Chase Briscoe - 16.33 / 16.78
  • Chris Buescher - 17.56 / 17.56
  • Harrison Burton - 27.89 / 24.56
  • Kyle Busch - 11.22 / 13.44
  • Jenson Button - 34 / 18
  • William Byron - 6.44 / 17.56
  • Ross Chastain - 8.89 / 12.11
  • Austin Cindric - 14.78 / 19.89
  • Matt Crafton - 36 / 34
  • Conor Daly - 37.5 / 32.5
  • Jonathan Davenport - 34 / 36
  • Austin Dillon - 23.22 / 19.78
  • Ty Dillon - 33.89 / 31.33
  • Chase Elliott - 8.67 / 16.67
  • Ty Gibbs - 19.44 / 16.22
  • Todd Gilliland - 30 / 20
  • Noah Gragson - 27.56 / 26.33
  • Justin Haley - 28.33 / 21.33
  • Denny Hamlin - 7.11 / 13.89
  • Kevin Harvick - 9.89 / 12.33
  • Riley Herbst - 37 / 10
  • Jimmie Johnson - 25 / 34.5
  • Erik Jones - 21.44 / 22.56
  • Brad Keselowski - 15.44 / 16.89
  • Corey LaJoie - 28.11 / 18.67
  • Kyle Larson - 2.89 / 15
  • Joey Logano - 3.78 / 14.89
  • Michael McDowell - 21.78 / 17
  • B.J. McLeod - 36.67 / 30.67
  • Travis Pastrana - 38 / 11
  • Ryan Preece - 26.11 / 24.56
  • Kimi Raikkonen - 32 / 29
  • Tyler Reddick - 13.89 / 15.22
  • Chandler Smith - 33 / 17
  • Zane Smith - 31.67 / 26
  • Ricky Stenhouse - 21.11 / 14.11
  • Daniel Suarez - 15.56 / 18.22
  • Jordan Taylor - 11 / 24
  • Martin Truex - 12.89 / 11.89
  • Darrell Wallace - 19.44 / 19.44
  • Cody Ware - 35.57 / 27.71
  • JJ Yeley - 34.5 / 29

Simulation Accuracy Order by Race

This is a list of the nine races so far in order of Simulation Projection vs. Actual Finish Position accuracy. Obviously, this is a small sample, but it can give bettors a good idea of which tracks have proven to be more statistically predictable when looking ahead at the rest of the ’23 schedule:

  1. Las Vegas (5.44)
  2. Phoenix (5.89)
  3. Martinsville (6.17)
  4. Richmond (7.41)
  5. Atlanta (9.06)
  6. COTA (9.18)
  7. Fontana (9.83)
  8. Bristol Dirt (10.49)
  9. Daytona (11.25)

It should be noted that #1 is a cookie-cutter 1.5-mile track, and #’s 2-4 are short tracks. The rest vary greatly from the first four in size, surface, and car setup. Of course, for this coming Sunday, Talladega’s closest similar track is Daytona.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s GEICO 500  at Talladega

Any race at NASCAR’s famed 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway is usually a wild one, and I wouldn’t expect Sunday’s race to be any different. The pack racing at this track is widely known for causing large wrecks known as “big ones.” These huge accidents have the capability of taking 10-15 cars out of a race in a single swoop. While the tight racing makes the action exhilarating, it makes the wagering far less predictable than the average race. Does this mean the Geico 500 should not be bet on? Well, yes and no. If you’re looking to score big money with big underdogs, this is the track and race for you. If you’re looking to invest your bankroll using solid wagering principles such as statistical simulations, just being honest, there are better races down the line for that, starting next week at Dover. That said, I try to predict and bet every race myself, so let’s dig right into the key stats for Sunday’s event.

Who are the statistical leaders at Talladega?

These are the leaders from my weekly simulation factors in some categories I deem to be key in analyzing race data:

Steve’s Track Handicap Ratings:

  1. Ryan Blaney – 97.9
  2. Todd Gilliland – 95.2
  3. Brad Keselowski – 95
  4. Kevin Harvick – 91.7
  5. Joey Logano – 89.6

Steve’s Track Designation Handicap Ratings:

  1. Erik Jones – 94.9
  2. Brad Keselowski – 93.7
  3. Aric Almirola – 93.3
  4. Chase Elliott – 92.8
  5. Denny Hamlin – 90.6

In looking at the leaders above, two things stand out right away. First, these are not the typical drivers you’ll find atop the ratings at most other tracks. It takes a special set of skills to navigate the draft at Superspeedway, and these drivers have fared the best at it recently. Second, these numbers are very low compared to other tracks. For instance, when I wrote about Bristol on Easter weekend, Christopher Bell, the eventual race winner, topped my Track Ratings with a 125.8 rating, almost 30 points higher than Blaney’s here. This is evidence of the unpredictable nature of what goes on at Talladega.

Steve’s Last 10 Overall Ratings (Momentum)

  1. Kyle Larson – 110.5
  2. William Byron – 101.9
  3. Christopher Bell – 100.2
  4. Tyler Reddick - 99
  5. Denny Hamlin – 90.6

In starting your handicapping, the lists above are a good place to start. However, in keeping with the subject of my simulations and their 2023 success overall, these are the drivers who are projected more than three spots off of their average simulation projection this season. Keep in mind, these are off of my initial simulations from Tuesday and can/will change based upon qualifying on Saturday morning. There are no practice sessions.

Drivers projected higher-than-average simulation

  1. Aric Almirola: 11 / 19.44 (8.44)/Erik Jones: 13 / 21.44 (8.44)
  2. Brad Keselowski: 9 / 15.44 (6.44)
  3. Christopher Bell: 1 / 6.89 (5.89)
  4. Denny Hamlin: 2 / 7.11 (5.11)
  5. Kevin Harvick: 5 / 9.89 (4.89)
  6. Ty Gibbs: 15 / 19.44 (4.44)
  7. Ryan Preece: 23 / 26.11 (3.11)

     

Drivers projected lower-than-average simulation

  1. Daniel Suarez: 25 / 15.56 (-9.44)
  2. Corey LaJoie: 35 / 28.11 (-6.89)
  3. AJ Allmendinger: 27 / 21.78 (-5.22)
  4. Martin Truex: 18 / 12.89 (-5.11)
  5. Tyler Reddick: 19 / 13.89 (-5.11)
  6. Darrell Wallace: 24 / 19.44 (-4.56)
  7. JJ Yeley: 38 / 34.5 (-3.5)
  8. Chris Buescher: 21 / 17.56 (-3.44)

For those of you insistent on me making some of my top picks for Sunday heading into the weekend (before qualifying on Saturday), here are some of my top predictions, with odds courtesy of DraftKings:

Top 5: Logano (+1000), Keselowski (+1500), Bell (+1800), Buescher (+2200), Jones (+2800)

Top longshots: McDowell (+4500), Buescher (+2200), Haley (+4500), Gilliland (+9000)

Favorites to struggle: Larson (+1800), Chastain (+1400), Busch (+1600)

I will have my final race simulation for the GEICO 500 available on VSiN.com sometime between the wrap-up of the qualifying races on Saturday morning and Sunday morning.

Any race at Talladega is a spectacle. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Just don’t expect it to go as you planned. Enjoy!

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