The Art of Jumping

By David Smith (on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA)
February 27, 2014


In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a good driver can go a long way. The way we perceive a driver’s success is usually based upon how the team as a whole performs. Don’t worry, though, because I’ve taken measures to extrapolate what a driver does when equipment is theoretically equal.

But what happens when the driver isn’t the one carrying the team? Just because a driver might have a difficult time navigating the hectic traffic typically seen in a NASCAR race, doesn’t mean all is lost. Enter the crew chief, the person in charge of overseeing a car’s setup each weekend whoo also devises the strategy for his team from the comfort of his own pit box.

Like those in any profession, some crew chiefs are better than others. It’s difficult to understand how much better one crew chief is compared to another. It’s also futile to rest a hat on one specific element of the job, because not all drivers are wired the same and require crew chiefs with vastly different skill sets. Chad Knaus’s winning process (for Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48) begins with his car specs. Steve Letarte’s key to success (with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88) is his motivation techniques. For others, crew chiefing talent shines in the strategy.

These strategists have figured out ways to obtain track position (individual positions in the running order) without their drivers passing anyone on the track by traditional means. This position-grabbing technique is called “jumping.” Only the name is new. The concept has existed since the green-flag pit stop became a regular thing in the sport of auto racing.

I introduced jumping in my Strategy Play articles during last year’s Chase and have alluded to it in a handful of articles since. It’s time for a formal introduction so that you can better understand how some teams are setting themselves up for terrific race runs without necessarily having a driver or car with efficient passing capabilities.

What is jumping?

Jumping emanates from short pitting – pitting laps in advance of the cars higher in the running order during green-flag pit cycles. It capitalizes on tire falloff. For example, if the tire falloff from the beginning of a natural green-flag run to the end at a specific track is 1.5 seconds per lap, a team 2.5 seconds behind the car it’s chasing down for position needs to pit about two laps sooner in order to jump a position in the running order.

This works two ways: If a car is running up front, a team is essentially playing defense to avoid being jumped, while a mid-pack car can jump teams that aren’t smart, good or paying attention.

Calculating the number of positions jumped helps identify teams that make effective use of their green-flag pit cycles ... Read More

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MotorsportsAnalytics.com is a subscription-based web site that brings advanced statistical concepts created for evaluating drivers and teams to the every day race fan. The web site has been featured in USA Today and Sports Business Daily and on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR Channel.

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David Smith is the Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Analytics and the host of The David Smith Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.