Race Day 2014: Our Predictions + A Competition

Now that we’ve decided on our menu for tomorrow’s motor sports triple header, it’s time we focus on the racing aspect of tomorrow’s races. Since we’re both avid race fans, we’re each going to give our predictions to win, as well as our money bets (where we see good value from Vegas odds). We’ll each have $50 bucks to spend over the three races. We’ll be using odds from Bovada. To make this more fun, we’re going to compete against each other with these rules:

Winning picks – 10 points if your pick wins, 6 for 2nd place, 3 for 3rd place.

Money bets – 1 point for each dollar profited. No points lost if no profit.

Winner gets breakfast in bed on Monday.

Monaco Grand Prix Predictions 

Winning picks:

Nick – It’s pretty clear that the two Mercedes boys are the favorites. Between them, they’ve won every pole position and race. For my race winning pick, I’m taking Nico Rosberg. The pole sitter at Monaco has won 9 of the last 10, there’s no rain in the forecast to shake things up, and Nico is the defending champ (from pole last year).

Deena – Sebastian Vettel. Why? The Mercedes boys take each other out, and Vettel gets by his teammate Ricciardo. And…he’s Sebastian Vettel.

Money Bets:

Nick – $5 on Daniel Ricciardo at 16-1 (to win $80). If the Mercedes boys take each other out, I like Ricciardo to hold his spot and take the win. I think the Mercedes duo could take each other out at least once if they ran this race ten times, let alone 16.

Deena – No bets.

Indianapolis 500

Winning picks:

Nick – I have to favorites to win this race, and they are both simply gut-feel kind of picks. I like Marco Andretti to break the Andretti curse or James Hinchcliffe to bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to Canada for the first time since 1995 when Jacques Villeneuve came from two laps down to win (his own personal Indy 505). If I have to pick one, let’s say the curse continues. Hinchcliffe, rebounding from a concussion two weeks ago at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis is my pick.

Deena – I am going with the #DoubleOutlaw, Kurt Busch, to pull of the shock victory in the greatest race in the world, despite it being his first ever race in an Indycar. Why? He’s simply a hell of a driver, and if he keeps it off the wall he should be in that lead pack. From there, he’s got just as much talent and aggressiveness out there to win it as anyone.

Money Bets:

Nick – $5 on Justin Wilson at 50-1 (to win $250), $10 on Scott Dixon at 9-1 (to win $90), $10 on James Hinchcliffe at 11-1 (to win $110). My reasons? I like Wilson to hang around the lead pack just as he did the last two years. He also led the race late in 2009 in a Dreyer & Reinbold car. At 50-1, I think it’s value. Dixon’s Indy finishes from 2006-2012: 6, 2, 1, 6, 5, 5, 2 . I like that consistency. And Hinch for reasons stated above with my race winning pick…gut feel.

Deena – $5 on J.R. Hildebrand at 40-1 (to win $200), $5 on Simon Pagenaud at 16-1 (to win $80), $10 on Marco Andretti at 13-2 (to win $65). I like J.R. at Indy. He proved in 2011 he’s got the ability, and in an Ed Carpenter Racing entry, he has the wheels underneath him. Pagenaud is simply a great driver, he typically keeps his car off the wall, and he has a strong pit crew. Marco grew up around Indycar racing, and he can wheel it at the 500. He’s built for this track…the question is, will the curse continue?

Coca-Cola 600

Winning picks:

Nick – I’m going to say Kasey Kahne pulls it off here. He’s had a rough year so far, currently 16th in points. But Charlotte is a great track for him. With five wins at Charlotte (one in the All-Star Race, one in the fall race, and three in the Coca-Cola 600), he’s got this place down, and starts up front. And he needs the win badly.

Deena – I like Dale Junior to win. He’s been getting stronger and stronger in recent years, and almost won the 600 in 2011, running out of fuel on the last lap.

Money Bets (we’re going to have to use odds from CarbonSports.Ag since Bovada’s odds are currently off for this one at time of posting):

Nick – $15 on Danica Patrick at 300-1 (to win $4500), $5 on Joey Logano at 12-1 (to win $60). Yes, I’m putting money on Danica. To make this bet profitable, if this race were run 300 times, she’d only have to win once. She’s run well lately, finishing 7th at Kansas, another 1.5 mile track. She qualified 4th, and is confident and comfortable. I believe once in every 300 tries, she can at least win this thing on fuel mileage. As for Logano, I like him about as much as I like Kahne, but he has better odds than Kasey.

Deena – $10 on Danica Patrick at 300-1 (to win $3000), $5 each on Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr., Ky. Busch, and Larson at 7-1, 12-1, 15-1, and 20-1 respectively (to win $35, $60, $75, and $100 respectively). Danica because look at dem odds! As for the rest, I they’re all clearly talented drivers who are all running well. A small bet on each, and a win by any of the four turns me a small profit on this race.

Who do you all have winning? Who are your value picks? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Race Day 2014: Our Menu

Usually Deena writes about food or fitness, and I about sports. This is one of our favorite blog posts, because we get to combine food and sports!

Every year (except last year when we were at our friends’ wedding) we plan a menu for the Memorial Day weekend motor sports triple header. We wake up and make a European themed breakfast and eat it while we watch the Monaco Grand Prix at 8am ET. We clean up, then prepare a Midwestern themed lunch while watching the traditions of the opening ceremonies for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. This year will be a little bittersweet during the opening ceremonies, since it will be the great Jim Nabors’ last year singing Back Home Again in Indiana, by far my favorite part of the opening ceremonies. We of course then enjoy the meal during the race itself. After the winning driver sips the milk in victory circle, we clean up again and usually take a power nap (maybe that’s what Kurt Busch will be doing as well as he flies from Indy to Charlotte trying to complete the double). Then we prepare an All-American or Southern themed dinner to have while we tune in to NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Oh yeah, and of course we have an alcoholic beverage for each race that matches the themes, duh!

This year we have to be a bit more creative, since I have realized I have a gluten sensitivity and therefore need to eat gluten free. I think we’ve handled that pretty well in the menu below, I’m really excited about gluten free chicken and waffles!

So without further ado, here’s our menu for Race Day 2014…

Morning (European Theme):
Race – Monaco Grand Prix
Food – Spanish tortillas
Drink – Mimosas 

Going for a run between these races…

Mid-day (Midwest Theme):
Race – 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (!!!!!)
Food – Bison burgers with Wisconsin cheddar and sweet corn sautee
Drink – Bell’s Amber Ale (Deena), 7 & 7 (Nick, rooting for Simon Pagenaud #77)

Power nap between these races…

Evening (Southern Theme):
Race – Coca-Cola 600
Food – Chicken & waffles (gluten free!) and watermelon caprese salad
Drink – NC Microbrews (Deena), Bourbon or Richard Childress wine (Nick)

Happy Race Day 2014 everyone! Let us know what you are doing for the races and who you think will win each one. I’ll have a follow up post later tonight with race predictions!


When it’s Hot, Does Smoke Catch Fire?

Ten races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Tony Stewart has put up some rather pedestrian numbers so far. With only two top 5s and four top 10s Smoke, as he is affectionately known throughout NASCAR circles, currently sits 21st in the point standings. His average finish of 19.8 is well above his career average of 12.9, yet some fans don’t seem to be worried. The reason? Memorial Day is fast approaching and as legend has it when the temperature heats up Smoke starts to catch fire. Throw in the added fact that under NASCAR’s 2014 rules a single win will probably qualify a driver for the chase, and many fans are betting that Tony picks up at least one win sometime between now and the last race before the chase cutoff at Richmond. But, will Tony pick up that win? Is there any merit to the legend that summer heat helps Smoke catch fire?

We’ll start simple and look at average finishes overall. From 1999 through 2013 Smoke has an average finish of 14.91 before Memorial Day and 11.66 after. If we just limit it to “the summer heat” where we look between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the gap tightens just a bit. During the summer Tony averages 11.74 compared to 13.38 during cooler times of year. We can use a statistical test to test for significant difference. In doing so, despite the large sample size (N = 521), the data are highly non-normal so a Student’s t-Test is not the appropriate test to apply in this situation. Instead we use a nonparametric test called the Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test which allows us to test for significance even though the data violates the normality assumption. Doing so gives p-values of 0.0006 and 0.0325, indicating Smoke’s improved post-Memorial Day and summertime performance is not just random noise, and is in fact not a myth.

Stewart's finishes before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.
Stewart’s finishes before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.

However, we can take this analysis farther. First, let’s remove the impact of mechanical failures, which the great majority of the time is not the driver’s fault (there can be situations where the driver abuses the car causing a tire or other mechanical failure, but they tend to be few and far between). We leave in races where accidents have caused a DNF (did not finish) because there are times this is the driver’s fault and times the driver is simply caught up in someone else’s wreck. Since there is no way to differentiate fault, we play it safe and leave accidents in. In doing so, Smoke now has average finishes of 14.01 before and 11.39 after Memorial Day respectively, and 12.73 and 11.51 in spring/fall and summer respectively. In both cases, removing mechanical failures has tightened the gap. However, applying Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney still gives p-values of 0.0024 and 0.0561 respectively, once again implying Smoke’s finishes tend to be better after Memorial Day and during summer. Moving forward, the rest of this analysis has DNFs from mechanical failures removed.

It’s fair to ask the question, “well isn’t Tony Stewart simply better at some tracks than others, and the tracks he’s better at tend to fall in the summer?” Here’s where it gets interesting. Looking at the 14 tracks that Tony has raced on before and after Memorial Day, Tony has averaged 1.15 positions worse than his average finish at each track before Memorial Day. After Memorial Day, Smoke has finished 1.03 positions better than his average finish at each track, meaning Tony finishes almost 2.2 positions better compared to his track average before Memorial Day than after. This difference is statistically significant (p = 0.0225). However, if we look at the 9 tracks that have had summer and spring/fall races Tony finishes near his track average regardless of time of year (0.14 worse in spring/fall, 0.22 better in summer). This small difference could be purely random chance (p = 0.4895). Thus, it’s easy to conclude that since Tony does better after Memorial Day, but no better between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it stands to reason he does best after Labor Day.

Stewart's finish against track average for before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.
Stewart’s finish against track average for before vs. after Memorial Day (left) and spring/fall vs. summer (right) with Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test for significance.

As it turns out, Smoke does indeed perform best late in the season. Now we divide the season into three segments, “Beginning”, consisting of races before Memorial Day, “Middle”, consisting of races between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and “End”, for races after Labor Day. For tracks that are not confined to one time of year he outperforms his track average by 1.21 positions at the end of the season, best of the three groups. This is one position better than the middle of the year, and 2.36 positions better than the beginning of the year against his track averages. The difference between beginning and end of year finishes produces the only result of significance (p = 0.0236).

Stewart's finishes against track average for beginning, middle, and end of year with Kruskal-Wallis (multiple means version of Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney) test for significance.
Stewart’s finishes against track average for beginning, middle, and end of year with Kruskal-Wallis (multiple means version of Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney) test for significance.

In other words, we can conclude, yes Tony Stewart does perform better after Memorial Day than before, but that is because stating it this way includes the end of the year. Instead, it is more correct to say he performs best at the end of the year, outperforming his track averages the most as the season winds down.

So, will Smoke similarly heat up this year? Under NASCAR’s new rules, winning matters most. Before Memorial Day Smoke has won 6 times in 174 races for a win ratio of 3.45%. After Memorial Day, he boasts a 12.54% win ratio. Considering there are 16 races left before the chase then at a similar 12.5% winning clip Smoke’s expected value is 2 wins before the chase in an average year. However, this has been no ordinary year so far for Smoke. Through 10 races, the 2014 season has been his worst start to date. Smoke has finished on average 8 spots worse than his track average in 2014. By comparison, his second worst start through 10 races was in 2007 where he averaged 4.9 spots worse than his track average. Applying the eight extra positions to Tony’s expected finish at each track, but crediting him for a post-memorial day bonus on all the tracks after Charlotte, we can try to calculate his expected wins. In doing so, the data for (actual finish – track average finish) needs to be transformed since it is highly non-normal. I first shifted the data so it is all positive valued and then I applied a Box-Cox transformation to produce a near-normal distribution of data. From here, we can calculate the expected win value for each of the 16 remaining races since we have the transformed mean and standard deviation for his actual finishes around his average track finish. When all is said and done, Tony’s new expected wins value is 0.1275 wins before the chase, a far cry from the 2.0 expected wins. This equated to about an 12% chance that Tony wins at least one race. Not too great.

Histogram of difference between actual finish and track average finish showing significantly skewed distribution of data
Histogram of difference between actual finish and track average finish showing significantly skewed distribution of data

Tony will have to step up his game if he wishes to make the chase. The data suggests he has only marginally improved performance in the middle of the year rather than the “as the summer heats up so does Tony” myth that is out there. Lucky for him, all it takes is one win, and if he does manage to significantly improve performance or grab an unexpected win with subpar performance to make the chase, all bets are off. Tony at the end of the year is a vastly different Tony than the beginning of the year as the data proves. Smoke could very well contend for the title if he simply makes the chase.

Fun Stuff: April Edition

Hi everyone!  Today I’m sharing some of our favorites from our lives this month.

I made a huge easter dinner even though it was just the two of us.  Ham, sweet potato and chard gratin, deviled eggs, green beans with candied pecans, and a beet, citrus, and mint salad.  For dessert we had lemon mascarpone and mango sorbet parfaits.  And a Bellini bar.  It was a beautiful day, so we had dinner outside and enjoyed the nice weather.

We had so much fun at the Tar Heel 10 Miler!  It was a tough race, including a 1 mile climb up Laurel Hill at the end of the race.  They gave us separate splits for Laurel Hill, and Nick finished third in his age group!  Afterwards we explored Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  We looked at plants at the North Carolina Botanical Garden (they have carnivorous plants!), then sampled some beers at the Steel String Craft Brewery, and had a lovely dinner at Kipos.  We are definitely going to sign up for this race again next year!

Coming off of the race, Nick has decided he wants to run a mile PR (his PR was 6:14 back in high school) and will be using this plan.  We’ll keep you updated!

I cannot wait to make this pad thai salad.  I LOVE pad thai, and this looks perfect for the hot summer months.

In girly news, I finally bought this Garnier BB cream.  I’m now wondering why I waited so long to try BB cream.  This stuff is amazing–the moisturizer is light enough so that I don’t break out, and the tint covers small blemishes.  I’m obsessed.

I’ve been looking for closed toe shoes that look good with shorts.  I run a lot, and a weekly pedi just isn’t a thing for me.  I ended up with a pair of sperrys and a pair of toms.

This year was the one year that I got my veggie garden in the ground on time, but we got frost April 15 and 16!  I covered the plants with plastic bags each night, and everything survived.  I planted Greek basil, Thai basil, mint (in a planter!), rosemary, crookneck squash, grape tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, and jalapeños.  I am wishing I had more bed space so I could plant more stuff!

We hope you had a wonderful month!