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Kurt Busch
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Statistically Speaking

Strong Starters

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: November 27, 2019, 5:50 pm ET

Each year there are some drivers in NASCAR who come out of the gates strong only to fade at the end. Since racing is a zero sum game, there are an equal number who are stronger in the closing events than they were at the start. This week, we will look at several drivers who put their best foot forward in the first 18 races of 2019.

Kyle Busch started the season with the best average finish in the first 18 races. Logging a 7.33 from the Daytona 500 through the Coke Zero 400 on that same track, Busch came out of the garage fast in February and earned 11 consecutive top-10s. He sustained crash damage at Kansas in May, but then regained his composure to score four more top-fives.

It was hard to find fault with anything Kyle did, but there were a few races in the second half of the season where Busch was less than impressive. Just after the halfway point, Busch added six more top-10s and an 11th to his tally, but he lost momentum when the playoffs loomed and it appeared he might struggle to even make it to the Championship Round.


Busch blew an engine at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finished 19th at Vegas to start the playoffs, broke a suspension on the Charlotte Roval, drew 19th in the Talladega lottery, and was 14th at Martinsville. In total, he finished outside the top 10 six times in the last 18 races compared to three in the first 18 – and as a result his average finish was 3.22 spots better in the first half.

In terms of sheer numbers, Jimmie Johnson had the best first versus second half of 2019. In the first 18 races, he scored eight of his 12 top-10s and all three of his top-fives for the season. He got off to a strong start with a ninth in the Daytona 500, followed that with an eighth three weeks later at Phoenix and seemed to be in the hunt most weeks.

Things really looked good for Johnson at Texas in March. He won the pole there and finished fifth. The next week at Bristol, he started and finished 10th. Just before the halfway point, he started and finished fourth at Chicagoland in a race won by his teammate Alex Bowman. Johnson closed the first half the way he started it: with a strong Daytona run – this time finished third.

Things were rosy and it seemed Johnson was poised to make the playoffs and continue to be the only driver to be in every one since NASCAR implemented the scheme.

Unfortunately his fortunes turned rapidly just after the halfway point. In the next five weeks, he finished in the 30s three times (at Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Michigan). A series of accidents in late summer and early fall took him out of contention including a DNF at Indy. In the final 10 races, Johnson continued to struggle and logged three more 30-something finishes.

Altogether, Johnson posted an average finish that was 7.83 positions better in the first half of the race than the second with a 13.44 compared to 21.28.

Joey Logano was another driver who peaked early. His average finish in the first 18 races was 2.83 spots better than in the second half – and while that might not seem like much, it was critical when one considered his competition to make the Championship 4.

Logano began 2019 with four top-10s in the first five races plus another period in which he earned seven top-10s in eight races from the Bristol spring event through his June Michigan win. With two victories to his credit, Logano almost immediately faded and he was not able to earn more than two consecutive top-10s until the final four races of the season.

Logano’s performance in the Round of 12 was less than stellar. He finished outside the top 10 in all three of those races, including a 34th at Dover when he was forced to the pits with a mechanical issue on the pace lap.

Kurt Busch was another notable driver who got off to a much stronger start than finish. With an average of 10.11 in the first 18 races, he showed consistency and strength. His last 18 races ended with an average of 16.11 to place him second on the chart below.

Busch was almost flawless at the start of the year. He sustained crash damage at Daytona and finished 25th, but recovered immediately with a third at Atlanta, a fifth at Las Vegas, and a worst finish of 13th in 11 races.

Busch finished outside the top 20 only twice in the first half of 2019. When he lost his consistency, he lost his strength and in the final races, he was much more likely to finish outside the top 20 and did so seven times.

Next week we will take a look at some of the drivers who finished strong.

 

Rank

Driver

Avg. Fin 1st Half

Avg. Fin 2nd Half

1st better

1.

Jimmie Johnson

13.44

21.28

7.83

2.

Kurt Busch

10.11

16.11

6.00

3.

Chase Elliott

12.89

17.39

4.50

4.

Aric Almirola

13.50

17.33

3.83

5.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

18.67

22.28

3.61

6.

Kyle Busch

7.33

10.56

3.22

7.

Joey Logano

9.33

12.17

2.83

9.

Alex Bowman

13.28

15.44

2.17

10.

Brad Keselowski

11.89

13.83

1.94

11.

Corey LaJoie

25.17

26.67

1.50

12.

Daniel Suarez

15.72

17.06

1.33

13.

Erik Jones

15.72

16.78

1.06

14.

Ryan Newman

14.11

15.00

0.89

15.

William Byron

14.67

15.11

0.44

16.

Austin Dillon

19.28

19.67

0.39

 

Dan Beaver
Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.