NASCAR 2018: The Year in Charts and Graphs

This is the time of the year when everyone takes one final look back at the last year before turning to think about the new one. So, in this last blog of the year, I thought I’d summarize the season in charts and graphs.

Where and When We Raced

If we consider the top-three NASCAR series.

  • NASCAR ran 92 points-paying races in 2018
    • 36 Cup Races
    • 33 Xfinity Races
    • 23 Truck Races

In 2018, we

  • Were scheduled to run 13,979 miles (10279 laps) worth of races
  • We actually ran 13,741 miles (10,250 laps).

Thank you, weather.

Where We Raced

A map of the US showing how the races are distributed throughout the year.
The star denotes Ontario Motorsports Park. Excel apparently lets you show Canada only if you show the entire Western Hemisphere.
  • NASCAR visited 23 states (46%) and one province.
    • Florida and Virginia hosted the most races: 8 each
    • Ontario (Canada) and Wisconsin hosted the smallest number of races: 1 each.
  • Although NASCAR is national, it’s base is still strongly in the Southeast
    • 38 races (41%) were run in the Southeast
    • 14 races (15%) were run in the Southwest
    • 14 races (15%) were run in the Midwest
    • 6 races (6.5%) were run in Texas

If we look at Cup races only:

A map of the U.S. showing the locations of the Cup Races
  • NASCAR ran its customary 36 points-paying Cup races in 2018 in 20 of the 50 states (40%)
    • Virginia hosted the most races of any state with 4
    • Florida hosted the next-most races with 3
  • The Cup Series’ base is also still clearly the southeast.
    • 16 races (44%) were in the SouthEast
    • 6 races (17%) were in the West.
    • 4 races (10%) were in the Midwest
    • 2 races (5%) were in Texas

A Quick Flashback

I went back to look at where we raced 20 and 40 years ago. I put all of the graphs on the same color scale, which runs now from 1 to 6 because there were six races in North Carolina in 1978.

Note also that the number of races changed in that time from 30 to 36 as well.

When We Raced

Only 3 races were moved due to weather this year, which meant 8% of our races ended up being on Monday.

Three-quarters of the races were run on Sunday — and all three Monday races were scheduled for Sunday, which means that the original schedule was for 83% Sunday races. That leave 17% Saturday races.

While it sometimes seems like there are more and more night races, they actually only make up 22% of all Cup races

You can see the distinction if we look at start times, too, because Saturday races are all night races.

  • 28 races (77%) started in the afternoon.
  • 19 races (53%) started between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.
  • 12 races (1/3) started between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m.

The Races

29 drivers completed all 36 races. Unsurprisingly, they were the top 29 drivers in the end-of-season rankings. You already know who has the most wins (Harvick and KyBu tied with 8 each), so let’s look at some lesser known stats.

Margins of Victory

In 2018, only one race (first Michigan) ended under caution. The margin of victory for the other 36 races varied a bit.

The average margin of victory was 2.1 seconds, but that’s heavily skewed by runaway victories at

  • Fontana (Truex, Jr.)
  • Sonoma (Truex, Jr.: when he was good, he was very, very good…)
  • Watkins Glen (Chase Elliott)
  • first Dover (Harvick).

Those four races were each won by more than 7 seconds.

However, 50% of the races were won by 1 second or less, and 88% of the races that ended under green were won by 4 seconds or less.

  • 1 race (2.7%) ended under caution
  • 4 (11%) races were won by 0.2 seconds or less
  • 10 (28%) races were won by 0.5 seconds or less
  • The smallest margin of victory was second Talladega (0.105 seconds)
  • The largest margin of victory was Truex, Jr. at Fontana (11.685 seconds)

Flashback to 1998 Again

In 1998, the average margin of victory was about the same (2.0 seconds), but…

  • There were 33 races
  • 5 races (15%) ended under caution
  • The smallest margin of victory was 0.051 seconds (Jeff Burton at Richmond)
  • The largest margin of victory was 13.117 seconds (Dale Jarrett at Dover, of all places. There were only four cars on the lead lap at the end of the race.)
  • 13 races (39%) were won by 1 second or less
  • 7 races (21%) were won by 0.5 seconds or less
  • 4 races (12%) were won by 0.2 seconds or less

If we make a histogram for 1998…

It’s really not so different from 2018, it it?

What About 1978?

I was going to give you an average for 1978, but I can’t because a number of those races don’t actually have time differences, they have lap differences. While Rockingham was won by 1.3 seconds, Martinsville was won by 3+ laps.

Every year, we’re going to have at least one, and probably two or three (or four) races every year where someone runs away with it. It’s the nature of sports.

Pole Speeds

I suppressed the zero on this graph because it made it easier to see the differences.

  • Qualifying was rained out three times.
  • The high and low pole speeds of the season happened in two consecutive races.
    • The low was 94.597 mph (Sonoma; Kyle Larson)
    • The high was 203.361 mph (Michigan; Kurt Busch)
    • Neither pole sitter went on to win the race.


We’ve talked in some detail this year about the fact that the cautions are down, due in part to stage racing and in part to the damaged vehicle policy.

  • We had 247 cautions for 1328 laps
    • The largest number of cautions in a race was spring Bristol (13) followed by fall Vegas (12)
    • The smallest number of cautions in a race was 3, which we saw at Sonoma, fall Richmond, and fall Kansas. In each of those races, two cautions were for stage ends, so they really only had one unplanned caution each.

Lead Changes

  • We saw 550 lead changes this season, but the number per race was pretty spread out.
  • The smallest number of lead changes (7) was at Darlington
  • The largest number of lead changes (25) was at
    • Daytona in July and
    • Talladega in the spring.
  • Daytona (February), Atlanta and Chicagoland had 24 lead changes each.
  • Plate tracks tend to have more lead changes, but this year, fall Talladega only had 15 lead changes.
  • The average number of lead changes per race is 15.3.


I did a whole blog on penalties up to the 34th race, but let’s add those last two in, just for the sake of being complete…

  • NASCAR officials levied 393 pit-road penalties. I’m counting them the way does: They don’t count pitting too soon because that’s usually done intentionally as strategy.
  • Of the penalties you can pin on the driver (194/393 or 49%):
    • 155 were speeding on pit road
      • 92 were too fast entering
      • 63 were too fast exiting
    • 16 were commitment line violations
    • 10 were pitting out of the box
  • Of the penalties you can’t necessarily pin on the driver (52%)
    • 86 were tire violations
    • 49 were too many men over the wall
    • 29 were crew member over the wall to soon
  • The teams of Michael McDowell, Daniel Suárez and J.J Yeley should probably set their warning lights a little further from pit road speed next year.
    • McDowell had 19 penalties, 13 of those being speeding on pit road.
    • Suárez had 16 penalties, 9 being speeding on pit road.
    • Yeley had 10 penalties, 7 of them for speeding on pit road.
  • The least penalized full-time driver was Kurt Busch with 4 penalties

Laps Run

  • Out of 10250 laps,
    • Ryan Newman completed the most laps (10,077 or 98.31%)
    • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. completed one less lap (10, 076 or 98.30%)
  • I put red boxes by our final four. There’s no obvious correlation between being in the final four and laps run.
    • Harvick was the lowest of the final four (9691 laps or 94.55%)
    • Kyle Busch was the highest of the final four (10,001 or 97.57%)
  • Even Michael McDowell, who completed the smallest number of laps of any full-time driver, ran 87.4% of all the laps in all the races, which comes out to 8964 laps.

Laps Led

Completing laps is good: Leading them is better.

  • Here, there is a very clear correlation with finishing position. There’s our final four in the first four spots.
    • Harvick led 19.4% of all laps run
    • Kyle Busch led 14.33% of all laps run
    • Truex, Jr. led 9.91% of all laps run
    • Logano led 9.11% of all laps run
  • However, you will notice that the champion is number four on the list! So there’s no correlation with the final four finishing positions.
  • All the full-time drivers led at least one lap with the exception of poor David Ragan (who is one of the nicest people on Earth).
  • The top four drivers led 52.77% of all laps run.
  • The remaining 25 drivers led 42.3% of the remaining laps
  • Part-time drivers lead 0.48% of the laps run.

Lead Lap Finishes

Lead Lap finishes provides a better sense of discrimination, which is a good thing in statistics. Some numbers don’t vary too much, which means them don’t tell you a lot between the highest driver on the list and the lowest driver on the list.

I didn’t show you the graph for running at finish because it just wasn’t that interesting. There was one interesting thing: William Byron was off track at the end of 25% of the races, which is lot more than even the next lowest (DiBenedetto and Wallace 19.5%.

Well, here’s a stat that varies a lot from highest to lowest: In what percentage of the races did the driver finish on the lead lap?

Again, you see that our top four are right up there in the top four positions. Kyle Busch finished on the lead lap in all but 5 races But look at the range. Bubba Wallace and Matt DiBenedetto only finished 6 races on the lead lap.

Thank You!

Thanks for following along in 2018. I wish everyone a happy, healthy 2019.

Please help me publish my next book!

The Physics of NASCAR is 15 years old. One component in getting a book deal is a healthy subscriber list. I promise not to send more than two emails per month and will never sell your information to anyone.

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