Whether it’s fantasy racing or driving, success requires avoiding drivers who rack up a lot of crashes and spin-offs.
But identifying the drivers involved in the most crashes and spins on road courses is more difficult than on other types of tracks.
A recent history of precautions
Statisticians usually calculate crashes and spins from the list of NASCAR cautions for each race. The sanctioning body classifies the cause of each warning and the cars involved.
Warnings are up in 2022 compared to last year. The graph below summarizes the number and types of accidents at 24 races each season.
I dimmed the competition and end of stage warning bars to highlight what we call “natural warnings”. Natural warnings include everything except end of stage and competition warnings.
History reveals trends. For example, the chart shows that debris warnings dropped from 36 in 2016 to 16 in 2017, when NASCAR introduced the damaged vehicle policy.
Accidents are the leading cause of warnings each year. The 2021 season had the fewest accidents (64) since 1986 – that’s how long I’ve had reliable caution data. We counted 86 accidents this year.
The 47 laps we had are more than triple the 15 laps last year. The increase in spins is due to the fact that the Next Gen car is harder to drive than the old Gen-6 car. The lack of asymmetry makes the current car much harder to “catch” when it begins to spin.
Although accidents are higher in 2022 than in 2021, they are lower than in 2020, where we had 92 at this stage of the season.
Is 2022 really high? Or was 2021 abnormally low?
Road courses are unique
I’m all for NASCAR experimenting with everything from format to schedule, even if their experiments make my job harder. The fewer constants in the data, the more complex the analysis.
The graph below details this year’s warnings by type and breed.
The Indianapolis road course stats immediately jumped out at me.
I didn’t have to look up any data to know there was more than one lap in this race. And certainly more than one accident.
Reviewing the race video convinced me that warnings are not an accurate way to measure crashes and spins on road courses. The road routes are long and spread out. Cars can safely leave the track or resume racing after an incident without needing a warning.
It doesn’t change the fact that there was an incident.
The counting of incidents is certainly subjective. I only included incidents that caused a significant loss of position or damaged a car enough to force an unscheduled pit stop.
In addition to the incidents on the official precautionary list, the Indianapolis 2022 road course had:
- 10 accidents
- nine rounds
- Five off-road excursions
- Two miscellaneous incidents
The only “official” crash, plus the 10 I counted, is 11 crashes – more than any other track this year. No track has totaled nine laps in a race either. And off-road excursions on a road course would hit the wall on oval tracks.
I counted the incidents of the other three road courses this year, again based on video.
I count 19 accidents and 24 rotations more this year than the official totals, which makes the increase from 2021 even more significant.
Or does it?
Until 2017, the Cup Series visited two road courses each season: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Uncaptured incidents were not as significant for two reasons. First, road courses accounted for two out of 29 or more races – from 5.5% to 6.9% of the schedule. Second, the year-to-year variation in the number of both pathways was likely small.
But in 2021, road courses made up 19.4% of the Cup Series schedule.
NASCAR replaced four tracks where cautions capture most crashes and spins with four tracks where they weren’t.
The huge increase in towers this year is real. We haven’t had more spins in a season since 2002.
But crash totals are suspect until we go back and count incidents on road courses in 2021. The drop in crashes from 2020 to 2021 may be due (at least in part) to schedule changes rather than to drivers.
Implications for Watkins Glen
The number of uncounted incidents probably doesn’t interest fantasy racers as much as knowing which drivers are most likely to have crashes and spin-offs on road courses.
From my incident tally across the four road courses held this year, the drivers involved in the most incidents are Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and AJ Allmendinger.
Each was involved in at least five incidents. The number of incidents is greater than the number of races because drivers who have spins or crashes often have more than one in a single race.
Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell managed to avoid road course incidents entirely. Other full-time drivers with minimal involvement in traffic incidents include: Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey LaJoie .
Ryan Blaney, currently in contention with Truex for the last open playoff position in points, has had four incidents on road courses this year.
How does all of this information affect the picks for Watkins Glen (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, USA Network)?
Of the list of drivers most involved in incidents, only Chastain has won on a road course this year.
The other three winners are on the least involved in incidents list.