Which NASCAR Drivers are Best at Superspeedways?

If asked who the best superspeedway driver was, most NASCAR fans would say Dale Earnhardt.

But what do the numbers say?

This post is part of a preseason series on how the 2021 NASCAR schedule may affect drivers competing for the championship.

Who Dominates Superspeedways?

To start with, I examined all drivers who ran at least 10 Cup-level superspeedway races between 2000 and 2020, and calculated their career average finishing position.

To simplify the data, I include only drivers with an average finishing position of 17 or below.

A column chart showing the average finishing position for NASCAR's top superspeedway racers
  • Not only does Earnhardt, Sr. dominate, he dominates by A LOT.
  • Dale Earnhardt’s average finish on superspeedways is 11.6, which is three-and-a-half positions better than the second-most dominant driver on superspeedways, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  • Bill Elliott comes in third with an average finish of 15.8

Winning at Superspeedways

Most drivers’ average finishing position at superspeedways is a combination of races in which they ran well and races they didn’t finish. But it’s possible to have a driver who just consistently finishes around 16th or 17th place, so it’s worth looking at wins.

So here’s a look at wins, top 5 and top 10s at superspeedways. I included DNFs because the DNF rate at superspeedways is much higher than at other types of tracks. I arranged the graph in order of percentage wins.

A column chart showing the percentage of wins, top 5s and top 10s for NASCAR superspeedway racers

Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. top this chart, too.

  • Dale Earnhardt won 14.4% of the 90 superspeedway races he ran.
    • But even more impressively, he finished in the top 10 in 68% of all his superspeedway races.
    • He also leads in absolute wins with 13 (3 Daytona, 10 Talladega).
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains in second.
    • He won 14.1% of the 71 superspeedway races he ran in his career.
    • He had 10 total wins.
    • He had top 10 finishes little more than half the time.
  • Jeff Gordon comes in third with 13% wins.
    • Gordon has 12 wins, which puts him in second for absolute number of wins above Junior; however, Gordon raced 92 superspeedway races, so percentage wise, he’s third.

It drops quite a bit from there, though. Hamlin, the fourth driver on the list, is only at 8.3% win rate.

Other Strong Drivers

Note that the above only considers drivers with an average finishing position of 17 or better in this analysis.

  • Brad Keselowski has a 12.7% win rate, but his average finishing position is 19. His DNF rate is almost 30%, which means that he doesn’t finish the race almost one-third of the time. When he finishes the race, he usually does well. But it’s 2:1 that he finishes.
  • Look at Clint Bowyer!
  • Ty Dillon hasn’t won a superspeedway race yet, but the stats show promise

Miscellaneous Superspeedway Stats

  • DNF rates among the top drivers on our charts
    • Earnhardt, Sr. :22.2%
    • Earnhardt, Jr. :16.9%
    • Gordon : 16.3%

Of this group of drivers, Terry Labonte has driven the most superspeedway laps: 20,103, or about 89% of all laps possible.

Elliott Sadler has the highest percentage of laps completed at superspeedways with 96.0% over his 51 races.

Recent Drivers

To look at possible impacts on the 2021 season, let’s limit our analysis to drivers who drove in the 2020 season. Here are the drivers with average finishing positions of 20 or better at superspeedways. Black stars indicate drivers we won’t see on track in 2021.

NOTE: Many of the career-average stats don’t really reflect the behavior of drivers at the ends of their careers.

A column chart showing the average finishing position for NASCAR's top superspeedway racers who competed in 2020
  • First on this list is Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. with an average finishing position at superspeedways of 16.4.
    • And since I know you’re wondering about his DNF rate, it’s 18.8%, which isn’t all that bad for a superspeedway.
  • Second is Denny Hamlin at an average finish of 16.5
    • Hamlin has one of the lowest DNF rates of any driver, let alone any active driver, at 13.3%.
    • The only driver who beats him in terms of completing races is Rick Mast
  • Third is a tie between Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon at 16.8
  • As we look to figuring out this year’s championship contenders, we should mention that current champion Chase Elliott has an average finishing position at superspeedways of 19.6.
    • Two of his main rivals (Hamlin and Harvick) finish, on average, three places better at superspeedways.

Impact on 2021

Superspeedways only make up 11.1% of all races in a season. So Chase may be giving up some points to rivals, but it’s a small percentage of races.

Superspeedways also offer the random element: drivers who may not be competitive at other types of tracks have a better chance of winning at a superspeedway. If one of these drivers wins a superspeedway race, that’s a net plus for the other championship contenders. Superspeedway-only winners rarely make it past the first-two rounds of the playoffs, but they take playoff points away from the more competitive drivers.

As always, thanks to racing-reference.info for all the stats.

Next: Let’s look at one of Chase’s strengths: Road Courses.

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About Diandra 451 Articles
I'm a recovering academic who writes about the intersection of science and life. I'm interested in AI, advanced prosthetics, robots and anything that goes fast. Author, THE PHYSICS OF NASCAR and Editor, BIOMEDICAL APPLICATIONS OF NANOTECHNOLOGY

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