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Statistically Speaking

Place-differential Points

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: December 15, 2019, 5:20 pm ET

Place-differential is not only one of the scoring categories in the Draft Kings games, it is an important consideration for fantasy players in other games because it reveals who has the propensity to improve from their starting position and who is reasonably expected to fall back during a race.

Among full time drivers expected to race the full schedule in 2020, Ryan Newman had the greatest place-differential with a +5.08. The team seemed to have downplayed the importance of time trials in 2019 to work on race trim most weeks and as a result they qualified in the top 10 only three times. In each of those races Newman finished worse than he started.

That was not the norm, however, and Newman’s 14 top-10s came after he recorded an average start of 21.28. In 36 races last year, Newman finished better than he started 27 times and exactly where he started twice – which meant that he almost never cost fantasy players points.


With an average finish of 17.83, Buescher was a modest value with a modest price tag most weeks in cap games and was often overlooked in Pick ‘Ems. Factor in his average improvement of 3.78 positions per race, however, and his adjusted total of 14.05 was truly attractive.

Buescher was a particularly good value on the four weekends that he finished in the top 10 because his best starting position in those races was an 18th and his average was 23.75. Like Newman, he was likely to improve in the vast majority of his attempts with 26 races in which he finished better than he started.

Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch were both great values when one simply regarded their average finishes. Busch clocked in with an 8.94 by the end of the season with Truex at 9.75. But adjusted with their average improvement of 3.33 for Busch and 3.36 for Truex, that equated to a 5.61 and 6.39 respectively. Frankly, no one came close to being as solid a value.

The only other driver to end the season with an average finish better than 10th was Denny Hamlin at 9.47. He had an average improvement of 1.53 for an adjusted total of 7.94, but he also finished worse than he started in 16 of the 36 races.

We said it many times in 2019 and will say it often in 2020 because it is one of the truest truisms in NASCAR: Racing is a zero sum game and every driver that moves up the order passes another.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the driver most often being passed in 2019 with an average place-differential of -5.42, His average finish of 20.47 was modest enough, but when adjusted with his lost positions he effectively had a 25.89 in Draft Kings.

Of course a number that high gets skewed by some bad results and Stenhouse failed to finish four times with crash damage, but he was fairly consistent in losing spots even when he was running at the end of the race. Last year Stenhouse finished worse than he started 22 times.  

Aric Almirola had the second-highest negative place-differential of -4.92. His average was skewed by three DNFs for accidents after he started on one of the first four rows as well as another race when he was slowed significantly by crash damage, but like Stenhouse he was far more likely to finish worse than he started with 24 races in which he fell back.

One of the most frustrating things about Almirola last year was that he kept lulling players into a false sense of security with 21 top-10 starts. He lost place-differential points in all but two of those races.

Clint Bowyer had the third-worst place-differential among returning full time drivers, but he deserves and asterisk. Behind Kyle Larson (with seven), he had the most DNFs for crash damage with six and all but one of those came after he started in the top 10.

Of course accidents are part of NASCAR and Bowyer’s destroyed quite a few rosters on the weekends when he lost control of his car, but in most of the races when he stayed out of trouble, he improved during and finished better than he started 18 times during the season. Five times when he finished worse than he started, he still finished in the top 10 and minimized the damage of his lost positions.

 

Place-differential

Rank

Driver

Avg. Fin

Avg. Start

Starts

Diff

Times
improved

1.

Ross Chastain

28.20

33.57

35

5.37

30

2.

Ryan Newman

14.56

19.64

36

5.08

27

3.

Chris Buescher

17.83

21.61

36

3.78

26

4.

Corey LaJoie

25.92

29.67

36

3.75

17

5.

Martin Truex Jr.

9.75

13.11

36

3.36

25

6.

Kyle Busch

8.94

12.28

36

3.33

22

7.

Reed Sorenson

32.72

35.84

25

3.12

16

8.

Ty Dillon

20.56

23.53

36

2.97

25

9.

Matt DiBenedetto

18.31

20.47

36

2.17

23

10.

Matt Tifft

26.03

28.19

32

2.16

20

11.

Landon Cassill

29.28

30.92

36

1.64

21

12.

Denny Hamlin

9.47

11.00

36

1.53

16

13.

Ryan Preece

23.06

24.36

36

1.31

19

14.

Bubba Wallace

23.94

24.33

36

0.39

21

15.

Paul Menard

16.56

16.58

36

0.03

20

 

16.

Joey Logano

10.75

10.33

36

-0.42

18

17.

Kurt Busch

13.11

12.69

36

-0.42

17

18.

Alex Bowman

14.36

13.11

36

-1.25

17

19.

Erik Jones

16.25

14.92

36

-1.33

19

20.

Ryan Blaney

13.72

12.28

36

-1.44

20

21.

Kevin Harvick

10.03

8.50

36

-1.53

13

22.

Kyle Larson

15.06

12.92

36

-2.14

16

23.

Daniel Suarez

16.39

14.22

36

-2.17

20

24.

William Byron

14.89

12.44

36

-2.44

16

25.

Brad Keselowski

12.86

10.00

36

-2.86

21

26.

Austin Dillon

19.47

16.47

36

-3.00

15

27.

Michael McDowell

24.17

20.86

36

-3.31

16

28.

Jimmie Johnson

17.36

13.50

36

-3.86

13

29.

Chase Elliott

15.14

10.89

36

-4.25

16

30.

Daniel Hemric

22.47

18.14

36

-4.33

13

31.

Clint Bowyer

15.17

10.72

36

-4.44

18

32.

David Ragan

26.28

21.83

36

-4.44

10

33.

Aric Almirola

15.42

10.50

36

-4.92

12

34.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20.47

15.06

36

-5.42

14

 

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.