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(Photo: Christian Koelle)

Did You Notice?: Is NASCAR’s 2019 Package Working? Inside The Numbers

Did You Notice? … If the new 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series handling package is creating more passing on track? The simple answer is yes. Green-flag passes through nine races are up 15.5% over last year according to Loop Data statistics provided by NASCAR.

So then why are the fans providing such mixed reviews? Why does the racing at intermediates appear to be remarkably similar to 2018? Why has a slight uptick in television ratings combined with an obvious downturn in attendance at tracks like Bristol Motor Speedway?

To try and find out, I compared a number of statistics from this year not only to the last few seasons but NASCAR’s peak growth year of 2005. What’s different about the racing now compared to when stock car racing trailed only the NFL in popularity?

The first answer applies to up front. 2019’s new package was designed to increase lead changes and reduce the aerodynamic advantage of clean air. But there hasn’t been a noticeable difference through a reasonable sample size of nine events.

MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES LEAD CHANGES

(Average through nine races)

2005: 22.8

2017: 17.6

2018: 16.8

2019: 17.0

The slight uptick in lead changes is negligible and still lags behind 2017. It’s also much lower than 2005, a time before NASCAR double-file restarts and stage breaks that produce natural cautions and lead changes on pit road. It’s amazing that the racing 14 years ago produced better competition up front despite all the modern rules designed to produce more passing.

Supporters of this year’s current package might say the cars are racing much closer together. There’s definitely some truth to that. The margin of victory through nine races is down significantly compared to the same point last year.

MENCS MARGIN OF VICTORY

(Average through nine races)

2005: 1.457 seconds

2017: 0.833 seconds

2018: 2.322 seconds

2019: 0.938 seconds

In all nine races this season, the margin of victory has been under three seconds. But those totals still fall short of what we had as recently as two years ago.

These totals can be tricky to analyze, though, as they’re subjective. Who cares if second place is one second back instead of three if he never had a chance to win the race? If there’s no passing during the final few laps, no pressure on the leader, then the number of lead changes for fans is irrelevant.

Perhaps a better indicator is passes for the lead during the last 10 percent of a race.

CUP SERIES LEAD CHANGES: LAST 10% OF THE RACE

(Total through nine races)

2005: 13

2017: 20

2018: 16

2019: 12

Nine races in, there’s a 25 percent decrease from last year and a 40 percent decrease from 2017. It’s also the worst total of the four years being compared.

So it’s clear the new package doesn’t automatically mean fireworks at the finish. While there have certainly been some nail-biting endings, in particular, the last two weeks at Richmond and Bristol, the explosive lead-swapping fans were hoping for has yet to transpire.

But what about other racing fundamentals? The trend of long green-flag racing has continued this season as slower speeds and more downforce has led to fewer wrecks.

CUP SERIES CAUTION FLAGS

(Average through nine races)

2005: 10.4

2017: 8.3

2018: 6.6

2019: 6.7

Cautions continue to be dramatically lower during the stage racing era. Racing has been cleaner with this package as even incidental contact is disastrous. Just one rub of the fenders can force an unscheduled stop for fresh tires or damage the aerodynamics to the point a car is no longer competitive.

Those long green-flag runs also diminish the number of cars in contention for the win.

CUP SERIES LEAD-LAP FINISHERS

(Average through nine races)

2005: 17.4

2017: 20.8

2018: 12.9

2019: 17.0

It’s incredible considering all the options to get a lap back these days (wave-around, free pass, automatic stage breaks) the lead-lap average is less than what we had before most of these gimmicks were in place (2005). There’s definitely an uptick, proving closer competition with the new package, but it still falls short of where we were at just two years ago.

Finally, let’s take a look at DNFs. As you’d expect, limited wrecks combined with modern technology and lower speeds means cars are finishing races. Period.

CUP SERIES DNFs

2005: 9.4

2017: 5.1

2018: 5.3

2019: 4.3

There have been no more than four DNFs in any race this season outside the Daytona 500. Clean, efficient races have been the story as mechanical problems have been virtually nonexistent.

The bottom line is it feels like this package, to date, is not all that much different from what we’ve seen last year. The numbers are not dramatically different other than the sheer number of green-flag passes. But if the racing is better in the middle of the pack? TV isn’t showing it.

Instead, the storylines on television typically revolve around the drivers up front. And as I pointed out yesterday, it’s the same teams and drivers winning races this season, limiting fresh faces to focus on. If fans see nothing but single-file competition, they can easily be left with an impression it’s the same type of racing – just slower.

The issue with that is NASCAR sold this new package like Zion Williamson entering the NBA. A wild 2018 All-Star Race led to the impression we’d see jockeying for position more than just a couple of laps after restarts. There was hope drafting would increase the number of lead changes up front and keep a driver from getting away in clean air.

So far, we simply haven’t seen that.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • To see only 37 NASCAR Xfinity Series cars entered for Talladega this weekend is worrisome. It’s one of the few races all year anyone in the field can win. And you can’t get 38 teams to show up? Add in a year of declining ratings for the sport’s second-tier division and it has to be concerning.
  • Matt DiBenedetto had the best car during the late stages of February’s Daytona 500. Michael McDowell had a chance to win on the final restart. Both drivers are already in a position where they need to win to make the playoffs. We’re entering a weekend with no restrictor plates at Talladega for the first time since 1988. If there was ever a time for an upset… with the way this season has gone, Cinderella feels overdue.
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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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4 comments

  1. Avatar

    NASCAR touting green flag passes as an indication of anything just shows that leadership is clueless. If you send 3-6 cars that typically run in the top 15 to the back of the pack each race of course green flag passes will increase. If one pays closer attention almost all of these cars/drivers/teams, start in the back and are usually right back up to where they may typically run prior to the first stage break. It would be interesting to see a break down of green flag passes from these first few races from the stage break ear and see how it trends as far as numbers in sage one, stage two and the final stage. Also, maybe green flag pass counts are why officials are so ticky tacky about the uncontrolled tire thing to force good cars to the back again and thus have more green flag passes to add into the total. Here again, remove these situations what happens?

    TV has to get out of its own way. I remember Bob Jenkins (not the owner) when the leaders were spread out and there was actually racing for positions back half top ten, top 20 whatever, they would be showing the actual action, and he would reference to the affect of this…. the leaders are spread out if anything happens we will go back to them. Sometimes it would literally be 20-30 laps of watching racing in the pack with a quick looksy at the leaders. FOX and NBC show the battles consistently within the race and viewership might just increase once more people realize hey TV is showing actual action not just the favored teams.

  2. Avatar

    Let’s see… 2005 was pre-COT era – no splitter on the nose. I don’t recall “aero” being the constant focus of attention back then. Coincidence?

    As for fans being upset despite more passing on track this is because NOBODY WATCHING AT HOME SEES ANY OF THE PASSING! Is it just my imagination, or does anyone else notice that when a battle starts heating up and the cameras are accidentally on it (because they don’t show on track battles on purpose!) they cut away to the leader or some other single car shot? Aggravates the hell out of me every time they do that!

  3. Avatar

    I would ask how many ‘lead changes’ now happen on pit road as opposed to years ago. And how much excitement was produced by cars racing to stay on the lead lap from single file restarts?

  4. Avatar

    Talladega was in the first 9 races in 2005 while Richmond was Race #11, probably skewing the lead change stats some. Also to a minor distinction, Fontana was 100 miles longer in 2005.