Home / Cup Series / Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s 2016 Season Has A Green-Flag Feel?
(Photo: Mike Neff)

Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s 2016 Season Has A Green-Flag Feel?

Did You Notice? … No Sprint Cup race has had more than eight caution flags all season? The 51 laps we ran under yellow at Martinsville were the fewest for that track since 1996; overall, the number of slowdowns have dropped significantly for the first six events.

TOTAL CAUTION FLAGS – FIRST SIX RACES

2007: 58

2008: 66

2009: 59

2010: 56

2011: 56

2012: 38

2013: 50

2014: 54

2015: 56

2016: 34

It’s a 39 percent decline over 2015, green-flag momentum that began with this year’s relatively clean Daytona 500 and continued through Sunday’s Martinsville race that featured mostly one-car incidents. The drop is impressive considering the numbers through the years have been fairly consistent: six times over the past ten years we’ve had between 54 and 59 yellow flags during this opening stretch.

What gives? It’s a small surprise considering NASCAR’s new rules package has made the handling package more challenging for the drivers over a long green-flag run; we’ve seen more people just “lose it,” like Denny Hamlin Sunday than we have in quite sometime. But for every self-induced incident, we’ve seen a sharp reduction in the number of DNFs and also a pretty strong track record by Goodyear (with the possible exception of Fontana). When your engine doesn’t break, your tires hold up and your speeds are controlled – pole-winning times have been down in four of six races thus far – chances at running a clean race rise significantly.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Despite plenty of NASCAR drivers just “losing it” this season the number of caution flags thrown are down sharply. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

The new rules package has also provided an added bonus from the officiating tower: better racing means less boredom and reduces NASCAR’s tendency to try and manipulate races through “mystery” cautions. At this point last year, a whopping 24 of 56 yellows (43%) were caused by either fluid, “debris,” or a flat out competition stoppage openly declared by NASCAR.

This season? Those numbers stand at eight of 34 (23.5%). Most of those have been for real debris, too easily shown on camera and identified as a natural occurrence. The disappearance of “debris,” litter on the track that could be found virtually any lap, anytime is a refreshing occurrence. The more the officials stay out of racing decisions, the better….

BOWLES: NASCAR’s Must Have Policy Going Forward

Did You Notice? … Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson is tied for 19th in average start this season? It’s yet another sign the sport’s new rules package allows drivers to work toward the front. Johnson’s only qualified in the top 10 once this year, at Phoenix last month but has a net gain of +63 spots during the race from where he starts on the grid.

It’s a promising sign someone with that poor a Friday could come back to fly through the field on Sundays, winning twice thus far and sitting second in the championship standings. By comparison, each of last year’s Final Four contenders ranked 11th or better in the series in average start; it was a necessity as passing was near impossible.

While we’re at it with Johnson, let’s take a look at oft-criticized teammate Kasey Kahne driving the same Hendrick Motorsports equipment. Kahne has an 11.7 average start, good for sixth-best on the Cup circuit but has a net loss of -48 positions on race day. Just once this season has the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet wound up in a better spot than he started, a marginal gain from 24th to 22nd at Phoenix. With Johnson across the way dominating on Sunday setups it’s another question mark in a line of them for why the No. 5 team can’t get it together.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off…

  • There’s been so much focus on NASCAR ratings this year but even a down market for stock car racing can boost other national series. With the Martinsville race as a lead-in NHRA competition from Las Vegas posted their best television rating Sunday in 14 years; 1.3 million viewers tuned in for their finals action from Las Vegas. Drag racing has seen an increase across the board since jumping to FOX and pairing the product with NASCAR has paid major dividends. Are you listening, IndyCar? (Cough, why aren’t you bending over backwards to get more NASCAR drivers to pull double duty Memorial Day weekend, cough)
  • Speaking of ratings, NASCAR’s Martinsville event was the first to post an increase in viewership for 2016. Considering how far the sport had fallen, ratings down as much as 27 percent year-to-year for the second race of the season at Atlanta the ability to “catch up” is a promising sign. Perhaps the new rules package is paying dividends? What I don’t understand, though is the barrage of empty seats we saw at Martinsville. Yes, it was a little cold but the fall version of that event only produced perhaps the best NASCAR race ever run at the track. The ticket prices are reasonable, the racing is always good, they have a world famous hot dog… why do fans not go to this short track? I want answers.
  • When will Matt Kenseth’s luck turn around? At this point, his bad luck situations at the end of races are borderline comical. The No. 20 team could now be easily overlooked this year; this poor start that will almost certainly leave them with one of the lower point totals of drivers who make the playoffs. I’m not fooled though. This team has clearly shown the speed that could see them go on a two or three-race run; perhaps this Saturday at Texas is where it starts?
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About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    Sports Media Watch reports ratings down 12% from last year. Nielson Media reported 4% increase. Figures lie. Liars figure. Who do we believe?

    • Avatar

      I’m surprised NASCAR hasn’t put the kibosh on ratings being released. You know, like the end of attendance numbers being released in the name of not giving earnings guidance and the end of race winnings being released in the name of the charter system. We all know those are smoke screens. It’s so people like us can’t do comparisons between today’s numbers and those of 12-15 years ago (i.e. before the Chase).

  2. Avatar

    Wait….. Maldanado lost an F1 ride, not nascar

  3. Avatar

    Most races have been run with only 39 cars. That’s the main reason for the decrease IMO.

  4. Avatar

    Let’s not forget the smaller fields. With three fewer cars on the starting grid (and it’s been four at quite a number of races), there aren’t as many cars in the field, and the three or four cars per race that NASCAR got rid of are those at the very back of the field that probably had no place in a Cup starting field to begin with. With an overall higher quality of drivers, teams, and equipment in the field, that decreases the chances there is of something freaky happening involving one of those cars that had been there in the past, but isn’t there now. In addition, the smaller fields give the drivers more room to operate, and with that comes more opportunities for longer runs of green flag racing, and that’s exactly what’s happened so far in 2016.

    • Avatar

      Exactly. Something I have been thinking all along. Thanks for stated that. Why can’t other writers see that. It seems obvious to anyone paying attention. Do writers and commentators have a reason for ignoring this? I wonder.

  5. Avatar

    rg72 I think you’re on to something there. If all the emphasis is now placed on the ‘chase’, and nothing really counts until then, why bother going to to them? I guess that’s a down side to failing to have a season long title?

    • Avatar

      does anybody go to the trouble and expense of attending a race because of a points championship?

  6. Avatar

    Maybe some of the reduction in cautions can be traced to the smaller fields. Most of the 3-4 missing cars each week would likely be inferior equipment and piloted by less skilled or experienced drivers, a combination more prone to bringing out cautions.
    Going to the attendance, now I see ISC is of the belief that people are choosing to attend the fall (i.e. Chase) race at two date tracks where one date falls within the Chase. I guess you reap what you sow.

  7. Avatar

    Maybe NASCAR has finally heard how much both fans and competitors hate fake debris cautions because it undermines the competition which, is kind of necessary for something to be called a sport. Or it could just be coincidence.