Whether fantasy racing or behind the wheel, success requires avoiding multiple crashes and spinning drivers.
But identifying drivers involved in multiple accidents and spins on road courses is more difficult than on other types of tracks.
Recent history of caution
Statisticians typically count crashes and spins from the caution list NASCAR releases for each race. The sanctioning body categorizes the cause of each caution and which cars were involved.
Precautions have increased in 2022 compared to last year. The graph below summarizes the number and types of crashes through the 24 races in each season.
I dimmed the competition and end-of-stage caution bars to highlight what we’ve come to call ‘natural caution’. Natural precautions include all but stage-ending and competition precautions.
History reveals trends. For example, the graph shows wreck cautions dropped from 36 in 2016 to 16 in 2017, when NASCAR introduced the wrecked vehicle policy.
Accidents are the biggest cause of caution in any given year. The 2021 season had the fewest crashes (64) since 1986 — which I have reliable caution data for. We have counted 86 accidents this year.
The 47 spins we did is three times more than last year’s 15 spins. The spin is increased because the next gen car is more difficult to drive than the old gen-6 car. The lack of asymmetry makes the current car very difficult to ‘remember’ when it starts to turn.
Although there are more accidents in 2022 than in 2021, they are fewer than in 2020, when we had 92 this season.
Is 2022 really high? Or was 2021 unusually low?
Road courses are unique
I’m all for experimenting with everything from NASCAR’s format to the schedule – even though their experiments make my job harder. The less consistency in the data, the more complex the analysis.
The plot below details this year’s precautions by type and race.
The Indianapolis Road Course stats immediately jumped out at me.
I didn’t need to look for any data to know that there was more than one spin in that race. And certainly more than one accident.
Reviewing the race video convinced me that cautions are not an accurate way to measure crashes and spins on road courses. The road courses are long and spread out. Cars can safely go off-track or return to the race without the need for a caution after an incident.
It doesn’t change the fact that it happened.
Counting events is admittedly subjective. I have only included events that caused significant position loss or damaged the car enough to prevent an indefinite pit stop.
In addition to the events on the official caution list, at the 2022 Indianapolis Road Course:
- 10 accidents
- Nine spins
- Five off-track excursions
- Two different events
One ‘official’ crash, plus the 10 I counted, makes 11 crashes – more than any other track this year. No track has ever had a total of nine spins in a single race. And off-track excursions on road courses will hit the wall on oval tracks.
I collected events from three other road courses this year, again based on video.
I count 19 accidents and 24 more spins this year than the official total, making the increase in 2021 even bigger.
Or does it?
Until 2017, the Cup Series visited two road courses each season: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Random events were not significant for two reasons. First, road courses were two of 29 or more races — from 5.5% to 6.9% of the schedule. Second, the year-to-year difference in the numbers of the two tracks was probably small.
But in 2021, road courses made up 19.4% of the Cup Series schedule.
NASCAR replaced four tracks where cautions caught multiple crashes and four tracks where they didn’t.
The big increase in spins this year is real. We haven’t had that many spins in a season since 2002.
But it is suspected that the total number of accidents will go back to road courses in 2021 and incidents are yet to be counted. The decrease in accidents from 2020 to 2021 may be due (at least in part) to schedule changes rather than drivers.
Implications for Watkins Glen
The sheer number of incidents doesn’t interest fantasy racers as much as which drivers are more likely to crash and spin on road courses.
From my count of incidents at the four road courses run 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 spin or crash often have more than one in the same race.
Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell avoided incidents entirely on road courses. Other full-time drivers with minimal road-course-incident involvement include: Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Chris Buscher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey Lajoie.
Ryan Blaney, currently competing with Truex for the open playoff position in points, has four events on road courses this year.
How does all this information affect the picks for Watkins Glenn (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, USA Network)?
On the list of drivers involved in the most crashes, only Chastain has won on road courses this year.
The other three winners are on less event-related lists.