Daytona 500: More Accidents and Even More Wrecked

Superspeedways are famous for ‘The Big One’: An accident capable of taking out half the field. But have Daytona 500 accidents always claimed a large number of cars?

Number of Daytona 500 Accidents and Spins

Let’s start with the number of Daytona 500 accidents and spins. I’ve normalized the graph below to 200 laps. That’s why some of the bars aren’t whole numbers: the race was rain-shortened or ran into overtime. The solid red bars represent accidents and the cross-hatched bars spins.

A graph showing Daytona 500 Accidents and Spins 1980-2020

On the whole, the number of accidents has gone up since 1980, but it’s not a simple, continuous rise. We had four accidents in 1981 and in 2015.

2011 was the year with the most accidents. The average green-flag run was less than nine laps that year.

There’s only one year — 1987 — in our dataset with only one accident. (I’ve limited this to 1980 on because that’s where we have consistently reliable accident data.

But it seems as though there’s a lot more carnage at superspeedways these days, doesn’t it?

Number of Cars Involved in Daytona 500 Accidents and Spins

In a given year, the Daytona 500 is often the race with the largest cost in terms of damaged cars. In the graph below, the red bars represent the number of cars involved in accidents and the pink bars the number of cars involved in spins.

And here, we’ve got a much more clear-cut trend. You can see that the numbers of cars that leave Daytona in less-than-pristine state has gotten much larger over the years.

A column graph of the number of cars involve in Daytona 500 accidents and spins 1980 to 2020

Again, this is normalized to a standard 200-lap race.

In 2019 (with 7 extra laps of overtime), 51 cars were involved in crashes. Since there were only 40 in the field, some cars were involved in more than one crash. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., by himself, was involved in four crashes.

In the last four years, at least 30 cars have been involved in crashes at the Daytona 500. Not all of those are race-ending, but given the sensitivity to aerodynamics, it may end the driver’s chances of winning.

Let’s put some averages together in a table. For each decade, I’ve tabulated the average number of accidents, with the lowest and highest races. Then I’ve computed the average number of cars involved in all the accidents, again with the low and high numbers.

DecadeAverage # AccidentsLow/HighAverage # CarsLow/High
19803.01-56.81-15
19903.91-713.22-15
20003.92-716.27-26
20106.03-1229.712-51

The average number of accidents didn’t go up much until the last decade. Prior to that, it stayed about 3-4 accidents on average. But it jumped up to six in the last decade.

Note also that the we haven’t had a race with less than three accidents in the last 10 years. The maximum number of accidents we might see in a race has also gone way up, from around 6 the last three decades to 12.

In contrast, the average number of cars involved in accidents has been steadily increasing, from 7 in the 1980s to almost 30 in the 2010.

And again, as we saw with Daytona 500 accidents, the minimum and maximum numbers of cars involved have also increased, In the 2000s, we didn’t have a race with fewer than 7 cars involved in accidents. In the 2010s, that number was 12.

There’s not much you can count on in superspeedway races, especially one as important as the Daytona 500. But the one thing you can count on is lots of wrecked cars.

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