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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voices from the Heartland: Surprise! NASCAR’s Version of Reality Slightly Skewered

In case you didn’t know it, the competitiveness in NASCAR’s highest ranks has never been better. Don’t take my word for it, though; just ask NASCAR. On second thought… you don’t have to. This sport is more than willing to tell you what to believe.

Here is an excerpt from a July 16th NASCAR press release titled “NASCAR’s Golden Age of Competition is Now.”

“Present-day NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races offer closer competition than anytime in history, a new NASCAR statistical analysis has shown. Taking into account such statistics as cars on the lead lap, average leaders per race and margin of victory, racing since 1970 has become more competitive and more unpredictable than ever. Consider this: In 1970, 22 of the 48 races “featured” only ONE car on the lead lap at the end of the race. Not since 1994 has a race ended with one car on the lead lap (Geoffrey Bodine at North Wilkesboro).”

This “new” statistical analysis (the first four letters of the word “analysis” sums it all up in my opinion) goes on to provide the following informational tidbits:

Percentage of cars on the lead lap:

1976 – 6.3%
1986 – 15.6%
1996 – 30.7%
2006 – 43.6%

Average leaders per race by decade:

1970-1979: 5.4
1980-1989: 8.1
1990-1999: 8.3
2000-2007: 9.8

On the surface, those are some pretty impressive statistics, especially the increase of the percentage of cars on the lead lap over the years. So impressive, in fact, that it set my feeble mind to wondering, just what overall factor has made NASCAR so gosh darn competitive nowadays compared to the days of yore. Was it that the equipment has gotten better? Perhaps it is the drivers. Could it be that all those great drivers “back in the day” just wouldn’t be able to cut it, even in their prime, against today’s “young guns?” What is it in the NASCAR of today that makes these racers so cotton pickin’ close together?

It was that last question that caused a flag to fly in my befuddled brain, and I started to do a statistical analysis of my own. I asked myself, if I were in charge of NASCAR, what would I do to keep the cars closer together? (Sort of WWJD: What Would Jeff Do.) What follows are the statistics that NASCAR did not disclose. You look at my findings and see if you come to the same conclusion I did.

1970-1979, of 336 races, 1,499 caution flags thrown. Average: 4.46 per race.
1980-1989, of 296 races, 2,080 caution flags thrown. Average: 7.02 per race.
1990-1999, of 307 races, 2,019 caution flags thrown. Average: 6.57 per race.
2000-2007, of 269 races (so far), 2,276 caution flags thrown. Average: 8.46 per race.

The best way to keep the cars close together is to essentially “start the race over” whenever any one man gets too far ahead. Throw that yellow flag! The more yellow flags you throw, the more leaders you have during a race because of those backmarker cars staying out one more lap just to lead a lap! Perfect! Throw the “Lucky Dog” in there and it gets even better.

Now, I am not suggesting that all caution flags are bogus. That would be absurd… but the numbers do not lie. The number of cautions nowadays is obscenely higher than it used to be.

Between 1970 and 1999, the lowest number of cautions thrown in one year was 125 in 1976. The highest was 236 in 1988. Since the year 2000, the lowest has been 244! (2000) So far in 2007, after only 19 races, there has already been 160 caution flags thrown! At the present rate, using a formula that only I and Duke Bush are privy too, by the end of the decade, out of 358 races, the caution will have flown an amazing 2,896 times. That’s almost 900 times more than in the 1990s.

So, no wonder the racing is so competitive now days! A yellow flag is all you need. Who’d have thunk it!?

Stay of the wall, (and on the lead lap!)

Jeff Meyer

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