Bookings increased in 2022 despite fewer end-of-stage and competition bookings since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causesers) of precautions.
I divide the reprimands into those that are planned, such as the competition and the breaks at the end of the stage, and the so-called ‘natural’ reprimands. Natural precautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on the track, and weather.
My first chart shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite just 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing began.
The 2022 season had 43 more total warnings relative to 2021 and 57 more natural warnings than last year. Those are the most natural precautions since 2016.
The caution rating is subjective. Obviously, a spinning car is a spin and colliding cars are an accident. But if a car turns and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident occurs in a stage break, do they record the yellow flag as an accident or a stage break?
This year presented an even thornier problem.
The 2022 season had more blown tires and dislodged car wheels than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some blowout incidents as debris warnings, others as accidents.
To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a car part lost on the track.
The myriad of tire and wheel issues led me to review the 302 precautions. I’ve added three additional caution categories: Wheel Trouble, Fire, and Tire Trouble.
Tire problems were labeled as such only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow out due to wall contact or flat spots are not included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution back in its original category.
My recategorization complicates the comparison of warnings by category with previous years. That concern is offset by the need to establish a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.
The table below compares my booking breakdown to NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit I’m not entirely objective either. But I think my categorization better reflects the general nature of the 2022 season.
The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. The 2022 drivers spun 60 times.
There haven’t been that many twists since 2007, when the series clocked 66 twists. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of turns this year is similar to that of the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin stats are a good argument that they got their wish.
Drivers in accidents, spins and stops
I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the turns, all the accidents and all the stops.
And remember: being involved in an incident does not mean that the driver caused the incident.
The chart below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.
Remember also that this count does not include problems with wheels or tires. A driver crashing because of a blown tire is fundamentally different from an accident or a spin.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers were in 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led the incidents causing warnings in 2021 with 17 accidents.
Kyle Busch ranks third in total incidents and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver did more than four laps.
No full-time driver completely evaded incidents. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron scored six, while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell each had eight.
The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. His 18 warnings also helped make it long in terms of timing.
But longer runs offer more chances to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of running. I removed the stage and race precautions because the planned precautions do not depend on the length of the race.
Bristol’s 14 dirt race bookings were the third-highest total after the 16 bookings for the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.
That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural warnings per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race also topped the list with 7.4 total warnings per 100 miles of running.
The Bristol tarmac race had the second most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4. The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).
What about super speeds?
The only sprint race on the top 10 cautions per 100 miles chart is the second Atlanta race. The fall race at Talladega had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.
But super speeds charge more cars per accident. The Daytona summer race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents with an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is greater than the number of cars in the race.
Talladega’s fall race ranks second in terms of wreckage per crash with an 8.0 car average. The Talladega spring race is tied with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.
Road America had the fewest warnings of any race in 2022. With just two stage interruption warnings, Road America had 0.0 natural warnings per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and Charlotte Roval 0.78.
We normally use precautions as a proxy to count accidents and turns. The problem is that not all incidents trigger a warning, especially on road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off the cars, some wheels coming off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing their wheels.
And there were many more turns that did not generate warnings.
Next week, I’ll tell you all about it.