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Jeff Gordon's 99% chance of advancing to NASCAR's Chase

Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet, at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet, at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Last Sunday's NASCAR race in Pocono was a real wildcard, with all the top leaders running out of gas in the final laps.

Kyle Busch, leading with one lap to go, never made it back around to finish the last lap, hitting empty and stalling on the track. That ended his chance to win a record-tying fourth-straight race. Instead of finishing first, he tumbled to 21st.

Busch's teammate, Matt Kenseth, was the lucky winner, coming out of nowhere to grab a victory he never would have earned otherwise. He led only two laps the entire race, one of them being the key—the last lap.

Despite all the last-lap craziness at Pocono, most of the percentages stayed the same in terms of who is on track to advance into NASCAR's version of the "playoffs"—the Chase as it's known. You can contrast that to last week's numbers.


We'll update the numbers, with all the races the rest of the year airing on NBC or NBC Sports Network.

Jeff Gordon saw himself inch up to a 99 percent chance of making the Chase. That's up ever-so-slightly from his 94 percent level in last week's projection. His third place finish at Pocono has him *almost* guaranteed to make it in, but there is still that ever-so-slight chance he won't. Gordon is in his final season, and not making the Chase will be a massive disappointment, on top of the currently disappointing fact he hasn't even won a race yet.

Despite Busch losing 20 spots on the final lap, his Chase odds didn't move that much. He was at 95 percent last week, and is now at 94 percent. It's a small difference, and he'll still almost certainly get in, but It would have been much closer to 100 if he had been able to finish that last lap.

Sunday's big loser was Kasey Kahne. He crashed out early. Really early. Lap 4. His dead-last-43rd-place finish knocked him in a big way. He's now on the outside of the Chase looking in, with only a 40 percent chance of getting back. That's nearly half the level he sat at last week, a much more comfortable 77 percent.

Taking advantage of Kahne's failure was Clint Bowyer, whose eighth-place finish jumped him into the "in" group—now at 69 percent, well up from last week's 43 percent.

How the Chase model works

Remember the way drivers qualify into the Chase:
(1) they have to be in the top 30 in points;
(2) they have to win a race.
(3) If fewer than 16 drivers meet the first two criteria, the remaining slots are given to the remaining nonwinners who are highest in the points standings.
That's why Busch and all his wins might not make it in, because he's still 32nd in points. And that's why winless Gordon will still get in, because he's high enough in the points standings.

Andrew Maness at PitRho, a racing data and analytics firm, has a model that simulates the season 100,000 times based on each driver's performance in this season and in recent years. Not surprisingly, Kevin Harvick has the highest chance of winning the title, at 24 percent. He was last year's champion and has been consistently strong all year, finishing in the top-two on 10 different occasions this year, among a total of 18 top10 finishes.

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