Bristol Elimination Race: A look at what every driver needs to advance

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

The worst thing that can happen to a playoff driver is that he drops out of the race.

The second worst thing is that another driver takes you out.

During a discussion about accidents at SiriusXM Speedway, host Dave Moody asked if some drivers tend to crash into each other more than other drivers.

I suspected so, 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 got to their results.

I started with the NASCAR watch list, selecting all the accidents and spins involving two or more cars. By 2022, that totaled 69 incidents involving 280 cars.

Incidents on road courses, however, often do not lead to cautions. Therefore, I added the list of incidents that I compiled from video analysis of the five road course races. That provided 20 more incidents involving 48 cars.

Then I identified all the pairwise correlations. That’s a fancy way of saying that I found all pairs of drivers who had 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.

The score for each pair of drivers 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. You may not have counted one or two road-course racing incidents that someone else might have. NASCAR didn’t count crashes that didn’t trigger warnings.
  • I have not discriminated between two-car incidents and multi-car crashes. All of them potentially hamper the end of the driver. But drivers take altercations between two cars a little more personally. That way they get more attention and we remember them better.
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Who contacts more cars?

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

Two of this year’s freshman class rise to the top of the list. Harrison Burton participated in 75 tag team interactions and Todd Gilliland in 70.

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

Third in the overall standings is veteran Denny Hamlin with 66. Aside from Burton, Gilliland and Hamlin, no driver has more than 60 pairs collisions this year.

Six drivers score between 50 and 59.

Justin Haley has the lowest score of all full-time drivers with 19. Other drivers with low scores are:

Specific Pairs

If the collisions were random, then each car would have approximately the same pairwise collision score as all other cars. We already know not to expect that because where cars travel influences who hits whom.

Cars that tend to run at the front of the field are more likely to collide with other cars running at the front of the field. The same applies to the middle and rear packet conductors. The one exception is super speeds because those crashes tend to rack up a wider swath of positions.

The two drivers involved in the most common incidents this year are Cindric and Burton, with a total of six. A ninth of the Cindric incidents involved Burton.

But the running position cannot fully explain these data.

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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 average running position of 18.2 and has no shared incidents with Burton.

Cindric and Dillon also have no shared incidents.

However, race position may account for the other two drivers scoring high with Burton. Gilliland and Corey LaJoie each have five crashes shared with the No. 21. LaJoie’s average running position is 25.4 and Gilliland’s is 23.5.

But LaJoie only has a shared accident with Gilliland.

If this is spinning your head, the following diagram may help. I denote each driver by their car number. The numbers on the arrows indicate how many shared incidents each pair has.

A graph showing the number of pairwise correlations (i.e. shared accidents) for Harrison Burton and selected drivers.

Besides the Burton/Gilliland and Burton/LaJoie pairings, only two other driver pairings had five meetings with each other. Denny Hamlin shares five accidents each with Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

How to survive bristol

The table below shows driver pairings with scores of four or more for each of the playoff drivers. These are the cars every driver must avoid if he wants to survive Bristol (7:30 p.m. Scores of four or higher.A table showing the drivers in the playoffs and which cars they crash with most often.

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