Driver Age at First Win

We have high expectations for the 2020 NASCAR Rookie class, but I learned one thing we shouldn’t be focusing on: driver age. Since I already made the graphs, I figured I’d show you why I think experience is more important than age.

A column graph of the age of NASCAR drivers at their first win.
The light blue represents drivers who went on to become champions. The darker blue are drivers who finished at least one season in the top 5, but never in P1.

If we first look at only those drivers who went on to become champions:

  • More drivers (8/24 = 1/3) won their first race when they were 27 or 28 than at any other age.
  • 4 drivers won their first race at age 25 or 26
  • 2 drivers won their first race in each of the three age ranges on either side.
    • The youngest drivers were
      • Joey Logano (19), in 2009
      • Kyle Busch (20) in 2005
    • The oldest drivers were
      • Dale Jarrett (34) in 1991
      • Alan Kulwicki (33) in 1988

No champion won his first race older than aged 34.

But this graph also shows that winning while young is no guarantee that you’ll go on to become a champion. It’s also interesting that most P2-P5 drivers won while 25 or 26, but champion drivers were more likely to win a little later.

Has Winning Age Changed with Time?

I’ve plotted here the age of the driver vs. the year of the first win to see if there’s a change given that drivers start earlier these days

An -x-y plot of the age at first win vs. the year of first win to see if there's a trend to drivers winning their first race at a yuonger age.

Throughout time, drivers won first races in their mid-to-late 20s. Recently, we’ve had drivers winning at younger ages. Of the last nine winners, none was over age 30.

Why is Age Not a Good Parameter?

Unlike many other sports, the inevitable aging of the driver’s body doesn’t play as big a role in performance. And how do you compare the driver who ran partial schedules for a couple years before getting a full-time ride with a driver who starts out in a full-time ride?

Tomorrow, I’ll re-visit this issue using what I think is a better parameter: experience.

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