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Voices from the Heartland: NASCAR Scheduled to Throw 8 Cautions at Homestead

Nearly two and a half years ago, I penned an article titled, “Surprise! NASCAR’s Version of Reality Slightly Skewered.”

What prompted that fine piece of writing, besides having a bit too much time on my hands that day, was a July 16th, 2007 press release by NASCAR telling us that we were, in fact, witnessing the “golden age of competition” at that very moment. The premise of the press release was… well, I’ll let you read a part of it for yourself, again.

“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).”

That press release set me to wondering, just exactly how had the competition gotten to be so darn close now, as compared to back in the day? Well the one thing that I could think of, the one tool NASCAR had at its disposal to make the races more competitive was… the yellow flag! As I stated back then, the easiest way to create closer racing is to essentially “start the race over” when things get a bit strung out. That led me to a statistical analysis of NASCAR’s use of the yellow flag throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and the present decade.

Recently, in the comments section of one of Tom Bowles’s fine articles, the subject of NASCAR’s use of the yellow flag came up once again and, seeing as how my original data was over two years old, I decided to revisit it and see how my predictions were holding up. At the time, I predicted that by the end of this decade, NASCAR would throw a total of 3027 cautions. Well, that number has already been exceeded to the tune of 3079. With one race left to go in this decade, here are the revised results:

1970-1979, in 336 races, 1,499 caution flags thrown. Average: 4.46 per race.
1980-1989, in 296 races, 2,080 caution flags thrown. Average: 7.02 per race.
1990-1999, in 307 races, 2,019 caution flags thrown. Average: 6.57 per race.
2000-2009, in 357 races (so far), 3,079 caution flags thrown. Average: 8.62 per race.

As I revisited these astounding figures, a colleague wondered just how many yellow flags had been thrown in the name of “debris” nowadays compared to days of yore. Well, not being too keen on wasting an entire day sorting through all the races of the past 40 years, I did decide to do a quick sampling of “debris” cautions in 2009 (so far) compared to 1999. The results surprised even me, to say the least.

In ’99, there were a total of 191 cautions thrown, with 11 of those caused by “debris.” At least one “debris” caution was thrown in nine out of 34 races. Of those nine races, only two races had more than one, and they each had two.

In 2009, with one race yet to be run, there have been a total of 298 cautions thrown, with 68 of those listed as “debris.” At least one “debris” caution has been thrown in 31 of 35 races (so far)! Of those 31 races, an astounding 18 races had two or more “debris” cautions, with the May Dover race having a high of six “debris” cautions out of a total of 10! Five other races this year have had four “debris” cautions, and another five races have had three!

Which brings us to the final race yet to be run at Homestead.

So far this decade, there have been 77 caution flags waved at Homestead. With nine races run there since 2000, the average number of cautions per race is currently at 8.5. The lowest number of cautions at Homestead occurred in the ’01 and ’02 races, where there were six, with ’04 coming in with the highest at 14. Of the total of 77 so far for the decade, 16 have been for “debris.”

Contrary to the title of this article, I am NOT going to say that NASCAR will throw exactly 8 cautions during the last race of this decade. What I AM saying is that, using the historical data available, the actual number of cautions thrown should be pretty darn close.

Unless, of course, NASCAR reads this article and goes out of their way to prove me wrong… but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that! On the bright side of things, I guess it does give me a reason to actually watch the race – even if that reason is to cheer on the yellow flag!

Stay off the wall (lest you leave “debris” on the track and either prove or disprove my figures!)

Jeff Meyer

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