Whether it’s fantasy racing or behind the wheel, success requires avoiding drivers who make too many crashes and spins.

But identifying the drivers involved in more crashes and rollovers on the road is more difficult than on other types of tracks.

A recent cautionary tale

Statisticians typically calculate crashes and spins from the caution list that NASCAR issues for each race. The sanctioning body classifies the cause of each caution and which cars are involved.

Cares have increased in 2022 compared to last year. The chart below summarizes the numbers and types of accidents in 24 races each season.

A stacked vertical bar graph showing a breakdown of cautions by race and type from 2013-2022 after 24 races
This graph shows the numbers of cautions after 24 races for each season.

I faded the competition and care strips at the bottom of the scene to highlight what we call ‘natural care’. Natural cautions include everything except end-of-scene warnings and competition.

History exposes trends. For example, the chart shows debris warnings dropping from 36 in 2016 to 16 in 2017, when NASCAR introduced the wrecked vehicle policy.

The biggest cause of warnings each year is accidents. The 2021 season had the fewest accidents (64) since 1986 – which is as far back as I have reliable data for care. We have counted 86 accidents this year.

The 47 turnovers we had is more than triple last year’s 15 turnovers. The increase in revs is because the Next Gen car is harder to drive than the old Gen-6 car. The lack of asymmetry makes the actual car much harder to ‘catch’ when it starts to spin.

Although accidents are higher in 2022 than in 2021, they are lower than in 2020, when we had 92 at this point in the season.

Is 2022 really high? Or was 2021 abnormally low?

Road courses are unique

I’m all for NASCAR experimenting with everything from the format to the schedule – even though their experiments make my job harder. The fewer constants in the data, the more complex the analysis.

The plot below details this year’s warnings by species and breed.

A stacked vertical bar graph showing the numbers and types of cautions for the first 24 races in 2022

The Indianapolis road course stats immediately jumped out at me.

I didn’t need to look up any clues to know there was more than one spin in that race. And definitely more than an accident.

Reviewing the race video convinced me that caution is not an accurate way to measure crashes and spins on road courses. The road courses are long and flat. Cars can safely go off the track or return to racing after an incident without the need for caution.

This does not change the fact that there was an incident.

The number of incidents is of course subjective. I only included incidents that caused significant loss of position or damaged a car enough to force an unscheduled stop.

In addition to the incidents on the official caution list, the 2022 Indianapolis road course had:

  • 10 accidents
  • Nine spins
  • Five off-piste excursions
  • Two different incidents

An ‘official’ crash, plus the 10 I counted, makes 11 crashes – more than any other track this year. No track has completed a total of nine laps in one race. And off-track excursions on a road course would be hitting the wall on oval tracks.

I’ve listed incidents from the other three road courses this year, again based on video.

A table showing the number of incidents that do not trigger caution in 2022

I count 19 more crashes and 24 rollovers this year than the official totals, which makes the increase through 2021 even bigger.

Or does it?

Until 2017, the Cup Series visited two road courses each season: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Uncaught incidents were not as important for two reasons. First, the road courses were two races of 29 or more – from 5.5% to 6.9% of the schedule. Second, the year-to-year variation in the two track numbers was probably small.

But in 2021, road courses accounted for 19.4% of the Cup Series schedule.

A chart showing how the number of road courses in the Cup Series has changed in recent years

NASCAR replaced four tracks where the precautions catch most accidents and spins with four tracks where they weren’t.

The big increase in spins this year is real. We haven’t had more turnovers in a season since 2002.

But the accident totals are suspected to be pending a return and count of incidents on road courses in 2021. The drop in accidents from 2020 to 2021 may be due (at least in part) to changes in timetables rather than drivers .

Implications for Watkins Glen

The number of uncounted incidents probably doesn’t interest the fantasy racer as much as knowing which drivers are more likely to crash and roll on road courses.

From my count of incidents at the four road courses driven 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 have spins or accidents often have more than one in a single race.

Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell managed to avoid incidents entirely on road courses. Other full-time drivers with minimal involvement in road accidents include: Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey LaJoie.

Ryan Blaney, currently competing with Truex for the final open playoff points position, has four road course incidents this year.

How does all this information factor into the Watkins Glen election (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, USA Network)?

Of the list of drivers most involved in incidents, only Chastain has won on a road course this year.

The other three winners are on the list with the fewest incidents.

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