Our 2021 to-the-back roundup honors those teams that managed to incur penalties before the green flag. Let’s look at whose knuckles NASCAR slapped this year.
In 2021, NASCAR inspected 1383 cars and drivers. 125 cars/drivers started at the back of the grid. That’s about 9% TTB for the season.
Why Cars Go to the Back
The main reasons sending drivers to the back are inspection failures (46) and unapproved adjustments (44), as shown in the pie chart below. Those two reasons comprise 72% of the cars that had to go to the back.
Only 12.8% of the cars (16) going to the back did it with a backup car. That number is way down from ‘normal’ years due to the lack of practice and qualifying.
Where are Cars Going to the Back?
The largest number of cars went to the back at superspeedways and road courses — plus Pocono and Texas.
Who’s Going to the Back?
In the graph below, I’ve shown to the back stats for all drivers, with the top 12 drivers highlighted. Only 10 bars are highlighted because Logano and Harvick never incurred a penalty. Neither did Ricky Stenhouse. Those are the only three full-time drivers who didn’t get sent to the back at least once.
- Quin Houff’s 00 team was sent to the back seven times this season, the most of any car.
- Second on the list is Corey LaJoie, who went to the back six times in his 35 starts
- More significant, however, is that Chase Elliott started from the back six times and Kyle Larson five times. Byron was TTB four times and Alex Bowman, the fourth HMS car, was sent to the back only once.
2021 To The Back By Owner
Since most TTBs are due to failing inspection, I wondered which teams were giving NASCAR inspectors the most work. Here’s the % of times each owner had their cars sent to the back.
- Kaulig had the highest ttb percentage with 22.2%, but they only ran nine cars in all of 2021. Compared to the 144 cars the major teams each raced, that’s a small number of cars.
- Among teams running a full season, the team with the highest percentage of to the backs is the late StarCom Racing at 19.4% with one car
- They’re followed closely by Spire Motorsports at 18% (running two cars)
- Among the championship contenders,
- Hendrick Motorsports has the highest percentage at 11.1%
- SHR and Gibbs tie at 7.6%
- Penske had only 3.5%
- Cody Ware’s team held the record this year with 14 penalties, and they did that running only 32 races. Normalizing that to a full-season 36 races, that would have been almost 16 penalties — which was the number last year’s most-penalized teams (Houff, Hill, LaJoie, Newman) incurred.
- The 00 Houff team moves down to second, tied with the Suarez and Bilicki teams.
- Among championship contenders, the top penalty incurrers were Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson with 8 penalties each. Hamlin’s team only had six penalties last year.
Although we’re focused on penalties, let’s put these 317 violations in perspective. According to my count, there were about 8,568 pit stops in 2021. Of the 317 penalties, 296 happened on pit road. That means teams pulled off 8,272 by-the-books pitstops in 2021. Only 3.45% of the pitstops drew a penalty.
Driver vs Crew Penalties Revisited
Let’s separate out this data into driver and crew. Here’s the same plot as above, but this time, I’ve broken it down into driver/crew and other errors. Also, I’ve ordered it in rank of driver-incurred penalties.
- Plotting it this way doesn’t help Mr. Ware, who leads with 10 driver-incurred penalties
- Bubba Wallace, Chastain and McDowell each had 9 driver-incurred penalties
- Houff and Briscoe each had 8
- The highest championship contender in driver penalties is Denny Hamlin, with 7.
- Kyle Busch and Larson each had 6 driver penalties.
- Truex, Jr. — who has had issues with lots of penalties in the past — is way down this year with only 2.
- Keselowski didn’t have a single driver-incurred penalty
Focusing on crews:
- Aric Almirola’s crew made the most mistakes on pit road with 7
- Smithley, Bilicki, Suarez’s pit crews each had 6
- Austin Dillon, Lajoie, Elliott, Stenhouse, Jr., and Truex, Jr.’s crews made no pit road errors in 2021.
In terms of the crews, you expect the lower-level teams who can’t afford high-priced pit magicians to have more penalties. So it’s extra strange that a SHR crew would make the most errors.
Where Penalties were Incurred
The impact of road courses on driver penalties can be seen more clearly if we look at the penalties by race.
- Drivers seemed to have a particularly difficult time at the Charlotte Roval, which took the record for penalties with 29 total, 18 of which were for missed chicanes. That’s almost 9% of total driver penalties right there.
- After the Roval, the next most-penalized race with the Fall Richmond race
- Drivers had a lot of problems with speeding on pit road at Martinsville which, because it is curved, makes it one of the most difficult pit roads to traverse.
- They also had problems with speeding at Richmond, Phoenix, Kansas, Dover and Nashville
- The most tire violations of the year happened at the spring Kansas race
All three metrics show a mix of drivers and teams at the top of the charts — the place no one wants to be. But it’s also clear that a small number of lower-tier teams take up a disproportionate amount of NASCAR’s time. That is usually how things work, right?
But what I see happening with the addition of new teams like Trackhouse & 23XI; the merging of GMS and Richard Petty Motorsports; the move of Kaulig Racing to Cup; and selling charters to new teams is that NASCAR is pushing the bar higher. Some teams happy to just be racing at the Cup level will be displaced by newer teams determined to run for a championship. And that’s more than a pipe dream for most of them because of the NextGen car.