The best thing about the 2021 NASCAR Season Overview is that it looks so much more like ‘normal’ than last year’s overview did. Sure, NASCAR made some big changes, but we got to qualify a few times and the number of drivers is back to where it was in 2019.
Parts II and III will take a deep dive into some stats. But first, let’s look at the overall season
NASCAR shook up the schedule like never before, adding road courses to bring us to a total of six, plus Nashville. But that came at the cost of losing Kentucky and Chicago.
Where We Raced
We raced 26 different tracks this year, which is up from 22 in 2020.
19: The number of states we raced in this year. That’s one more than in 2020.
In terms of most visited states:
- 4: Florida and Virginia (Virginia only had three races last year because we only visited Richmond once.)
- 3: Tennessee – thanks to adding Nashville
When We Raced
2020 was a bumper year for racing on different days of the week, but we were pretty much back to normal in 2021.
80% of the races happened on Sunday.
14%: The percentage of races run on Saturday
Here are the actual number of races on each day for the last three years. Note that NASCAR did not plan Monday races: Mother Nature made those decisions.
Going the Distance
9 races when longer or shorter than planned. That number was 10 in 2020.
Of the 9 races this year:
- Overtime: 6 races (+27 laps/59.35 miles)
- Rain Shortened: 2 races (-85 laps/236.60 miles)
- 1 race ended early due to darkness (-8 laps/8.46 miles)
All told, we ran 66 fewer laps than scheduled and 186 fewer miles. The deficit would have been even larger, but we had 13 laps of overtime at the 2.439-mile Indy Grand Prix Circuit.
Let’s put these numbers in context of the historical laps and miles we’ve gained/lost due to overtime and/or various types of weather.
We lost more laps to weather in 2021 in any year since 2016. 2021 also marked the most miles lost to weather since 2012. And note that these stats only cover actual race time lost, not delays waiting to race or red flags during a race.
2021 NASCAR Season Overview: How Far we Ran
12,595: The maximum number of miles a full-time driver had the opportunity to drive in 2021. That’s down quite a bit from the 13,507 number of 2020, which can be attributed to the large number of road courses, which usually end up being 200-250 miles rather than 400-500 miles.
Let’s put this in perspective: the Earth is 24,902 miles around at its equator. That means a driver completing most of the laps essentially drove halfway around the Earth. That’s not even counting non-points races, practices or qualifying!
450,039 miles: The total miles driven by all drivers in all Cup races. The mean distance between the moon and the earth is 238,855 miles. You could almost drive to the moon and back (Note: last year, all drivers combined drove 497,241 miles)
Comparing Actual/Scheduled Distances
|2020 Scheduled||2020 Actual||2020 Difference||2021 Scheduled||2021 Actual||2021 Difference|
68: The number of drivers who turned at least one lap in 2021. That’s up from the 54 drivers who turned at least one lap last year
45: How many car numbers were run in 2021 – that’s one less than 2020
3: The smallest number of laps any one driver ran in 2021. That was Derrike Cope in the Daytona 500
31: The number of drivers who ran all 36 races. (44.1% of all drivers). Corey LaJoie ran 35/36 races, missing one for COVID.
Last year, only 28 drivers ran all 36 races, but two drivers missed races due to positive COVID tests, Ryan Newman missed 3 races after his Daytona 500 crash, and Kyle Larson only ran 4 races.
34: The number of cars with the same driver all season
10: The maximum number of drivers for one car number. That was the #15. Last year, that honor went to the 77, with 9 different drivers.
17: The number of drivers who only ran one race this year. Last year, that number was just 6.
We had an average of 38.4 cars per race. That’s down almost one full less than the 39.3 cars per race of 2020.
How They Raced
16: The number of distinct winners. Last year, it was 13, which was the same as in 2019. It’s pretty close to the average over the last five years.
196: The number of DNFs. There were 1,414 cars entered, which means 13.9% of the cars failed to finish the race.
129 cars were sent to the back of the field. That’s about 9%.
211 free passes were awarded, compared with 247 free passes last year.
317: The number of in-race penalties NASCAR assessed. That’s down from 337 in 2020.
123: The number of cars sent to the back, mostly for inspection failures and unapproved adjustments.
Margin of Victory (MoV)
4: The number of races ending under caution. Both Daytona races ended under caution, as did COTA and the second Talladega race. That’s double the number we had in 2020.
0.077 seconds: The smallest MoV of the season, at second Michigan. (last year, fall Talladega was the narrowest MoV at 0.007 seconds. For reference, the blink of an eye is about a third of a second.
10.051 seconds: The largest MoV, at the Coca Cola 600, where Kyle Larson spanked the field.
But in general, margins of victory were larger this year than last year.
- 2 races (19.4%) were won with less than a 0.2 second MoV (7 in 2020)
- 10 races (47.2%) were won with less than a 0.5 second MoV (17 in 2020)
- 16 races (63.8%) were won with less than a 1 second MoV (23 in 2020)
Green Flag Passing
109,542: the total number of green-flag passes according to NASCAR’s loop stats. Last year, it was 113,379, but if you factor in the smaller number miles we raced this year, there was actually more passing per mile this year than last. In 2021, there were 8.69 passes per mile. In 2020, there were only 8.39 passes per mile.
41,502: The number of quality passes (which means passing a car in the top 15). Quality passes make up 37.9% of all green-flag passes.
Below, I break down the green-flag passes per mile by race, separating the bars into quality passes and what I guess have to be called non-quality passes. The numbers are the percent quality passes: i.e. how much racing for position is happening in the top 15.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the biggest number of passes happen at the Talladega and Daytona superspeedways. But after the superspeedways, we have five road courses, spring Vegas and spring Phoenix, all with ten or more green-flag passes per mile.
Dover is at the bottom of the rankings, as it was last year.
- At the bottom, we have Dover (race 25) with 1.65 passes per mile. Dover was at the bottom of the list last year as well.
The next metric we’ll look at in the 2021 NASCAR Season Overview is cautions.
259: The number of cautions in 2021. Compare that to 284 in 2020. They’re pretty similar when we factor in miles run. This year, we averaged about 2 cautions per 100 miles and last year, we averaged 2.1 cautions per 100 miles
Of the 259 cautions this year:
- 87 were planned cautions (stage end and announced competition cautions)
- 172 were unplanned. As you might guess, most of those (68%) were accidents. Taken together, accidents and spins account for about 80% of all unplanned cautions.
15: The largest number of cautions, which was the number at both Martinsville races. Last year, the spring Bristol race had the most cautions, with 17
4: The lowest number of cautions (Charlotte , Pocono (2nd), Road America, Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Las Vegas (2nd).
1: The lowest number of unplanned cautions: Atlanta, Watkins Gen and Las Vegas tie for the honor.
1,289: The number of yellow-flag laps run. Although we had 1,437 yellow-flag laps last year, because we ran fewer total laps this year, the percentage is about the same as last year: right around 14%
Because races are different lengths, it’s helpful to look at the number of cautions per 100 miles.
Last year, the Bristol spring race had the highest number of cautions per 100 miles at 6.4. In 2021, the spring Bristol race was on dirt, but it still managed to take top honors, with a caution rate of 7.4 per 100 miles.
- Martinsville (race 35 and race 8) – 5.7
- And then a bunch of road courses before we get to the Fall Bristol race.
0.67: The smallest caution rate per 100 miles, during the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Accidents and Spins
Over the years, NASCAR is getting less accident prone. That doesn’t mean we don’t have accidents, but the number is down.
- 117: The number of accidents in 2021. This is down slightly from 125 in 2020. If we factor in miles, we had about one accident every 100 miles both year (0.925 per 100 miles for 2020 and 0.928 per 100 miles for 2021)
By Race: Accidents and Spins Per 100 Miles
Some races are longer than others, so let’s plot the number of accidents and spins per 100 miles.
The Bristol dirt race had 4.4 accidents per 100 miles and 0.74 spins per 100 miles. That’s actually not terribly different than the Bristol spring race last year, which was not on dirt.
Martinsville gave Bristol a run for its money this year, with the fall race having 4.2 accidents per 100 miles. The spring race had 2.3 accidents and 2.7 spins per 100 miles. This makes the spring Martinsville race the spiniest race of the year.
2: The number of tracks with no accidents (Road America and Watkins Glen)
Number of Cars per Accident
Before we claim that the Bristol Dirt race was the most dangerous track of the 2021 Season Overview, we have to look at how many cars, on average, were involved in each accident.
Interestingly, the Indy road course beat out the superspeedways thanks to two big accidents at the Indy Grand Prix that involved 7 and 9 cars respectively.
Finally, the Diandra Danger Index is the average number of cars per accident times the number of accidents per 100 miles. This metric basically lets us look at what happens if all races were the same length.
The Bristol Dirt race outdid its nearest competitor by a factor of almost three.
If the LA Coliseum is anything like the Bristol dirt race, expect teams to lose some cars there. Then there’s Daytona, which is always a minefield. So these results aren’t so great for teams struggling to get NextGen cars ready for the start of the year.
More NASCAR by the Numbers Coming
This entry covered the general information, but next blog, I’m going to be delving into the drivers.
If you’re curious about a statistic, let me know and I’ll see what I can do!
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