Loading scores...
Kyle Larson
Getty Images
Statistically Speaking

NASCAR’s Biggest Losers

by Dan Beaver

Racing is a zero sum game. In order for one driver to move up in the rankings, he has to take the place of another who is going to fall. The entire sport is built on this premise and it is an important factor to keep in mind whether one is looking at Place-Differential Points or average finishes.

Last week, we took a look at drivers who have significantly improved their average finish during the past two years. This week, we will look at the other side of the coin and drivers who have come out of the gates significantly worse.

Often when a team improves one driver’s performance, the rising tide raises the teammates. That has been decidedly untrue at Chip Ganassi Racing. Whether the team has the resources for only one strong team or if this is simply an adjustment year to accommodate a very strong personality in the form of Kurt Busch does not really matter to fantasy players. The upshot is that while one driver has risen, his teammate has plummeted.


Kurt Busch has shown the greatest improvement in average finish during the first nine races to the tune of +7.11 positions. Kyle Larson is this year’s biggest loser to date with a drop of -5.56 spots from 12.44 in 2018 to 18.00 this year. Notably, this is the third consecutive year in which he has fallen during the first quarter of the season. In 2017, fantasy players were excited about his 6.44 average, but he seems to have gradually declined since.

Granted, part of his decline this year has come because of a pair of accidents at Texas Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway in the last month, but crashes are not always simple bad luck. Larson is driving frustrated and making mistakes that cost him positions. Until he regains his equilibrium, it is best to leave him in the garage.

Bubba Wallace has shown the second-greatest decline this year. His average finish of 25.56 is -4.89 spots worse than he recorded last year. Without a lot of drama in the form of accidents, it has simply been a consistently disappointing season so far. Wallace did retire on Lap 169 of the Daytona 500 with damage, but he’s been running at the end of every race since – just not very well.

Wallace has finished on the lead lap only one time this year. Notably, that came on one of the toughest tracks to complete the distance and his 17th-place finish in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway provides some hope to his fans. Especially since that was followed the next week by a top-10 qualification effort at Texas and then another top-20 on the bullring of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Ryan Blaney’s year has been a difficult one to explain. When everything goes right, he is competing right up there with his teammates, which is pretty much what we expected of him during the off-season. He has four top-fives in the first nine races of the year. Unfortunately, those are his only top-20s during the season, with every other result landing in the back half of the pack.

An overheating issue at Texas interrupted Blaney’s streak of top-fives. We were willing to overlook that last week at Richmond, but Blaney fell two laps off the pace and finished a dismal 25th. Richmond is his worst track in terms of career finishes (26.7), and with a 25th-place finish he was a little above average, but it’s going to take a few weeks before fantasy players learn to trust him again.

Alex Bowman is another driver who is notably missing from the front of the pack. Mostly this is because of the improvement shown by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Chase Elliott (+4.00) is the sixth-most improved driver this year with Jimmie Johnson (+3.45) landing ninth on the chart. Even William Byron (+.55) has shown a little improvement.

So, what’s wrong with Bowman?

It would appear that he and the team are concentrating heavily on qualification and missing their race setup. Bowman has the third-worst Place-differential on average with a loss of -4.56 positions per race, which compounds the problem for fantasy players. With an average difference of -3.11 this year compared to last, fantasy players certainly don’t want to start him in the next couple of unrestricted races, but given the overall improvement of Hendrick, Bowman should remain on the radar.

 

Average Finish, First 9 Races

Driver

TY vs LY

2019

2018

2017

Kyle Larson

-5.56

18.00

12.44

6.44

Bubba Wallace

-4.89

25.56

20.67

 

Joey Gase

-4.75

36.75

32.00

23.00

Ryan Blaney

-4.44

17.00

12.56

18.33

Alex Bowman

-3.11

18.33

15.22

 

Clint Bowyer

-3.00

11.89

8.89

11.56

Landon Cassill

-1.86

30.11

28.25

25.44

Joey Logano

-1.67

9.00

7.33

7.22

Aric Almirola

-1.55

15.11

13.56

16.44

Erik Jones

-1.33

15.89

14.56

19.67

Michael McDowell

-1.11

26.89

25.78

24.78

David Ragan

-0.89

24.89

24.00

26.33

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 15 years with a little help from his >600,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.