2020 NASCAR by Numbers: The Drivers

Although Santa’s making a list, we here at Building Speed are also in the list-making mode. In the third part of this seemingly never-ending series, we examine at how individual drivers fared in 2020. Please do read the first and second parts on overall racing and penalties.

And as always, much thanks to Jayski.com and racing-reference.info for being such great repositories for stats and information.

Let’s start with a list that no driver wants to be near the top of…

Accidents and Spins

Last year, you might remember, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the most accident-prone driver, racking up a total of 19 accidents and two spins.

What about this year?

A column plot showing the number of accidents and spins for each driver by car number.
I really should have gone through and done this by driver, but I ran out of time!
  • In 2020, RSJ is only 6th on the list with 11 accidents and one spin. So he’s down in ranking, as well as in absolute numbers. Bravo!
  • John Hunter Nemechek holds the record for most accident-prone driver this year with 15 accidents and four spins.
  • I was surprised to see veteran Ryan Newman in second place, despite having missed three races after the worst accident of the season.
    • He only had eight accidents, but he had seven spins.
  • If we consider only accidents (rather than accidents and spins), Austin Dillon is second with 13 accidents.
  • Kyle Busch is higher up in the list than he usually is with 11 accidents. Last year, he had eight.
  • Even the most successful drivers tore up cars.
    • Harvick was involved in five crashes and one spin
    • Elliott was involved in four crashes and one spin

Did you know that NASCAR does not count accidents that happen on the last lap? That horrifying crash Ryan Newman had at Daytona isn’t part of the official statistics.

Free Passes

NASCAR handed out 223 free passes in the 2020 season.

A column chart showing the number of free passes
I colored the top four season finishers in red, P5-P8 in blue and P9-P12 in green.

Of our 36 mostly full-time drivers, the only driver who did NOT get a free pass this year was William Byron in the 24 car.

If you don’t get a lap down very often, you don’t get free passes. The top-performing drivers got (in general) the fewest number of free passes, with the number of free passes going up the further back the driver is in the season-ending standings.

Laps, Laps and More Laps

Let’s turn to the statistics where drivers want to be highest on the list.

Laps Run

Each driver had the opportunity to run 9,914 laps in 2020.

No one ran all of them, but a couple drivers came pretty darn close.

A column plot showing how many laps out of all possible laps each driver completed in 2020
  • Ironmen
    • Kevin Harvick ran 9,911 laps, which is 99.97% of all the laps possible.
    • Right behind him is Denny Hamlin, with 9,891 laps (99.8%)
  • Iron-Oxidemen
    • Seven drivers (Logano through McDowell) ran 97% or more of all laps possible
  • Thirty of the 36 drivers ran 90% or more of all laps
  • Misc Facts
    • Despite missing three races, Ryan Newman still ran 90% of all laps
    • Series champ Chase Elliott is 12th on the list with 96.2% of laps run
    • Of the six drivers who completed less than 90% of all laps, only two ran all 36 races. One of those was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

That Stenhouse, Jr. failed to complete so many laps (despite fewer accidents this year) is concerning. If I were his car owner, that’s an area I’d definitely talk to him about during his year-end evaluations.

Running at Finish

You can’t win the race (or earn points) if you’re in the garage during the last lap. Let’s look at how drivers fared on this metric.

A column chart of how often each driver was running at the finish of a race in 2020
  • Harvick again tops the list with zero DNFs.
    • Last year, only two drivers had no DNFs: Logano and Ty Dillion.
  • DiBenedetto and Hamlin each had one DNF
  • Stenhouse, Jr. DNF-ed eight races, which explains why he’s so low on the numbers of laps run.
    • Only one of those was equipment failure; the other seven were crashes
    • In 2019, he had five DNFs. All were due to accidents, which suggests the high this year probably can’t be attributed to having worse equipment in 2020 than 2019
  • Kyle Busch had six DNFs in 2020, compared with two in 2019.
    • In 2020, he lost an engine at Daytona. The other five DNFs were crashes.
    • In 2020, his DNFs were because of an engine failure and a suspension problem.
  • 2020 Champ Elliott was 12th on the list with 3 DNFs. That makes his championship even more impressive because he had less laps to do it in.

Leading Laps

I limited the graph below to drivers who led at least 1% of all the laps they ran.

A column chart showing the percentage of laps led for each driver
  • At the top of the class is (again!) Harvick
    • He led 15.4% of all the laps he ran this year. That means that about 15 out of every 100 laps Harvick ran, he ran in P1
  • Elliott is in second place, with 13%
    • Harvick and Elliott together led 28% of all laps
  • Hamlin, Truex, Jr., Keselowski and Logono round out the top group, all of who led more than 8% of the laps they ran.
    • The top seven drivers accounted for 60% of laps led
  • The top nine ranked drivers took the top nine spots. Those nine drivers accounted for 84% of all laps led.

Top 15 Laps

It’s not as good as leading, but the amount of time a driver stays in the top 15 is a reflection of quality that doesn’t necessarily translate to winning.

A column plot of how many laps (out of total laps run for that driver) were run in the top 15
Note that this percentage is as a fraction of the number of laps each driver ran: Another words, when they were on the track, this is how often they were in the Top 15.
  • Elliott comes in first on this indicator, with 88.2%. In other words: for every 100 laps he ran, 88 of them were in the Top 15.
  • Logano is second with 85.5%
  • Surprisingly, Harvick — who leads a lot of other indicators — is fourth on the list
  • There’s a big drop between those who were in the top 15 more than 50% of the time and those that weren’t.
    • 18 drivers were over 50% — every one of those drivers drives for (or is affiliated with) one of the big teams
    • 18 drivers were under 40%

Fastest Laps

The number of laps for which a car was the fastest on track reflects the driver’s ability to make the most of the car’s raw speed.

A column chart showing how often a driver ran the fastest lap of any car on track.
Again, this percentage is calculated relative to the total laps each driver ran.
  • Harvick is again first in this list for 2020 with 8.7%
    • Last year, Kyle Busch was first, with a little more than 10%
  • He’s followed by Elliott at 8.4%
  • Five of the top 10 cars (50%) are Fords
    • All three Penske Cars are in that list along with
    • Two Stewart-Haas Cars
  • Three of the top 10 cars are Toyotas (all Gibbs)
  • Two of the top 10 cars are Chevys (both Hendrick)

Lead Lap Finishes

Again, finishing on the lead lap is a prerequisite to winning, or even earning end-of-race points.)

A column chart showing how many races each driver finished on the lead lap, finished by not on the lead lap, and DNF'd
Green bars denote the number of races with a lead lap finish
Yellow denotes races finished, but not on the lead lap
Red denotes DNFs
  • Harvick and Keselowski both finished on the lead lap in all but three races.
    • Harvick completed all the races.
    • Keselowski had only two DNFs.
  • The next highest number of lead-lap finishes is 30, by Denny Hamlin

Driver Wins, Top 5s and Top 10s

Thirty-one of the 36 mostly full-time drivers got at least one top 10 finish. The graph below shows the numbers of wins, top fives and top 10 finishes for each of those drivers

A column chart of the wins, top-5's, and top-10s of the full-time drivers for 2020

Wins

  • 13 different drivers won races in 2020. That’s the same as last year, and one more than the year before. With the exception of 2017, when we had 15 distinct winners, most years since 2014 have been around 12-13.
  • Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin led the way in wins with 9 and 7 respectively.
    • Together, Harvick and Hamlin account for 44.4% of all wins this year
    • Elliott was third with 5 wins. The top three account for 60% of all wins this year.

Drivers with only one win generally don’t finish very high in the standings. I’ve noted previously that drivers who win only a superspeedway or road course race rarely advance very far in the playoffs. NASCAR wants wins to matter and, to the extent that lack of wins eliminates drivers from the championship, they’ve succeeded with this format.

P2-P5 Drivers

  • Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch tie for the most number of top-5s excluding wins. Both had 13
  • Hamlin and Harvick tied for second-most P2-P5 finishes, both with 11

Top 10s

  • Harvick had the most top 10s at 27, which means he finished out of the top ten only 25% of the time. And, of course, nine of those top 10s were wins.
  • Keselowski is second with 24 top tens (4 wins)
  • Truex, Jr. has 23 top tens, but just one of those is a win.

P6-P10

Kurt Busch and Eric Almirola tie for the most P6-P10 finishes, with 12 each. Keselowski comes in third with 11.

Stages

NASCAR introduced stages in 2017 to generate competitive driving in the middle of the race. Because points are awarded, winning stages is important to winning a championship

Wins

I included winning the race (which is really just the last stage) in this plot because I was interested in correlations between stage wins and race wins.

A compound column plot that shows which drivers won stages and races in 2020
  • Whether you want to count only stages or stages + wins, Denny Hamlin wins here with 11 stage wins and 7 race wins.
  • Most drivers have more stage wins than race wins — with the exception of Harvick. He’s second on this graph only because of his 9 race wins. He only won 7 stages in 2020
  • Second in terms of stage wins is Elliott, with 10.
  • Keselowski never won a stage 1
  • Custer and Dillon won races, but neither got a single stage win.

I don’t show the graph for it, but Kevin Harvick had the most playoff points, followed by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.

Stage Points

3,934 stage points were awarded in 2020. Here’s a graph of the total stage points won by each driver.

A column plot of the total number of stage points won by each driver in 2020
  • Ryan Blaney won the most stage points in 2020 with 346 (8.8%).
  • Chase Elliott and Martin Truex, Jr. tied for second with 310. (7.9%)
  • You can see the sharp drop off after Kyle Busch
    • KyBu won 5.8% of the playoff points
    • The next driver after Kyle Busch is Clint Bowyer, with 3.94% of the stage points
  • The top three drivers won 25% of the stage points available.
  • The top nine drivers took 60% of the points available.

Passing

  • All told, there were 108,986 green-flag passes this year.
  • 35,470 of the green-flag passes (32.5%) happened at Daytona and Talladega
  • 47,594 passes were Quality Passes, which NASCAR defines as passing a car in the top 15. Quality Passes accounted for 43.7% of all green-flag passes in 2020.
A column chart showing the total number of green-flag passes for each driver and the number of those passes considered quality passes

Total Green-Flag Passing

  • Mid-pack drivers make the most total green-flag passes passes because drivers at the top of the standings don’t have as many cars in front of them to pass. Lower-ranked drivers don’t have the ability to pass as many cars.
  • If Tyler Reddick feels extra tired this off-season, here’s why:
    • The man passed 4,062 cars in the top 15 during the seasons. And that doesn’t even include passing cars that weren’t in the top 15.
    • 1,830 of those passes were quality passes, which puts him at 45%
  • William Byron made the second most number of green-flag passes (3,760), while Jimmie Johnson (3,739) comes in third.

Quality Passes

  • Brad Keselowski made the most quality passes of any driver in 2020: 2,418 (out of 3,599 total green-flag passes)
    • He also had the highest percentage of quality passes at 67.2%
  • Chase Elliott made the second-most quality passes of any driver in 2020 with 2,386 (out of 3,634 total green-flag passes), which makes the percentage of quality passes 65.7%
  • If we consider only percentages and not absolute numbers, Joey Logano takes second place to Harvick at 66.0%

Top All-Around Drivers

Let’s try to summarize this all up by listing the top five in each metric. I’ve included a few I didn’t have graphs for.

Harvick topped most of the categories one would like to be at the top of, but interestingly, he was at the bottom when it comes to stage points. Crew Chief Rodney Childers is obviously prioritizing race wins over stage wins — and Harvick is carrying out that strategy well.

And yet Harvick did not win the championship.

That’s the way playoffs work in every sport. You can have an unbeaten record and lose in the semi-finals, never even making it to the final game.

While I’m sure Harvick and Childers were unhappy they didn’t make the final race, I was sad about it too. I would have liked to have seen an Elliott-Harvick battle for the championship.

Let’s hope for next year.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Drivers by the numbers - Jayski's NASCAR Silly Season Site
  2. How Does Having Seven Road Courses in 2021 Change the Championship Race? : Building Speed

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