Following Kyle Larson’s win in the Irish Hills of Michigan, the Monster Energy NASCAR series moves back west to the road course at Infineon Raceway in Sears Point, California. Infineon (Sonoma) is a 2.52-mile road course with eleven turns used, in the Monster Energy race, including the famous hairpin in the final turn that can create all sorts of chaos on the final lap. Infineon has been the site of various feud’s getting settled, or just being further ignited, as dumping a driver into a corner can easily be construed as aggressive driving. Thankfully, we don’t have any feud’s to calculate this weekend save for something happening on the course itself on Sunday.
Besides the double digit number of turns, the course has subtle elevation changes which create added difficulty for brakes on an already strenuous day. Because of the length and time, it takes to make a lap around Sonoma, going down a lap during green flag racing isn’t much of a concern, however, if a driver’s brakes start to fail a long day just got longer.
How many potential lap leaders should we roster?
The first thing to keep in mind is that Sunday’s race will consist of only 110 laps or just 27.5 laps led points. Thus, when we start carving this race up into sections it doesn’t take long to see that leading 10%, 15%, 30%, or even half the race won’t result in that large of a points bonus. In fact, if a driver were to lead fifty-five laps Sunday it would only amount to an extra 13.75 points. All lineups should start and end with zero potential lap leaders while your emphasis should be assembling teams that gain the most points via finishing position and place differential.
Needless to say, the only real scenario where you would roster a potential lap leader is you foreseeing a driver lead 75% or more of the race, however, that is a situation that does not play out at Infineon. As seen above, the most any driver has led, the past three years, is forty-five laps while we have an average of four drivers lead ten or more laps. With the decrease in laps, and stages now for better or worse, it becomes all too easy for a team to start playing with pit strategy less than twenty laps into the race and start short-pitting and grabbing the lead.
Since we’re not looking for a lap leader(s) we can completely bypass our next graph where we search from where in the field the lap leaders are coming from. Also, if you’re instead looking for a graph that correlates starting to finishing position you can move along as well. Utilizing the Foundation Model to see where individual drivers are finishing on average is going to be essential and provide you with way more information than a noisy graph can.
Should we roster the pole sitter?
Since we know that rostering no potential lap leaders (whatever percentage you attach to it) is our first path to roster construction, this week’s biggest question is what to do with the pole sitter? As far as any laps led bonus points, they’ve been minimal at best for the pole sitter save for last year when Denny Hamlin led the second most laps (24), thus if you roster whoever qualifies first don’t assume it means a baseline of extra points. However, removing the 2015 race when AJ Allmendinger was wrecked out on lap 98, the pole sitter has finished towards the front. When you look at average running position numbers the last three pole sitters have run 5th, 20th, and 5th further showing the ability of the pole sitter to stay out front. This all being said, 2017 has been the year of the pole sitter and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the pole sitter get out front and stay there until the first round of pit stops.