Power Has a 28% Chance of Winning Watkins Glen or Sonoma

The IndyCar championship is down to just two races: Watkins Glen, where the series hasn’t raced since 2010, and Sonoma. Will Power is trailing Simon Pagenaud by 28 points right now and most people say he’ll need a win to have a shot at the championship. His rival has been very good at finishing races this year, so banking on another DNF from him isn’t a worthy strategy. 
Using a binomial distribution — which gives the chance of a certain number of successes (in our cases wins) occurring in a given number of trials (races) — I calculated the odds of both Pagenaud and Power winning zero, one, or both of the races remaining. Their expected win probability was based off of their winning percentage from 2014 through Texas 2016. Here’s what I found:

Both drivers are more likely than not to go winless over the last two races, which hurts the chaser more than the leader. Power has slightly better than a one in four chance of picking up a win. Securing two wins has less than a five percent chance of occurring for both drivers.

The result of this quick analysis reaffirms the idea that Power really does have to go out and take control of these races if he wants to win the title. Pagenaud will be more focused on finishing the race high up the field but not necessarily winning, opting to try and stay out of trouble instead. He’ll know the odds of Power winning one of the races is pretty low and that he just needs to keep a cool head on the track to take home a nice trophy.

Update — 3:51 p.m., 8/31
One caveat of using a binomial distribution that I failed to mention is that a binomial distribution assumes all trials are independent. That is, the probability of winning one race doesn’t affect the probability of winning a future one. After Watkins Glen, the respective win probabilities for both drivers will change because they will have either won a race or not in the time frame we are looking at. The only part of our analysis that is truly affected by this is the probability of winning two races. If a driver wins the first one, their probability of winning the last race too will go up.

by Drew

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