2021 Laps: Finished, Led and Fastest

In 2021, laps were run, finished, led and fastest — but you may be surprised which drivers lead these categories: They’re not all Kyle Larson.

A note: When I talk about championship contenders below, I’m talking about the top-8 ranked drivers.

Laps Finished

How’s that old saw go? To finish first, you must first finish. So let’s examine how drivers did this year in terms of completing laps. I show only drivers who ran all 36 races in the graph below.

2021 laps: Percentage of all laps run by driver in a vertical bar chart.

2021 offered 9200 laps worth of racing.

  • 27 drivers completed 90% or more of those laps.
  • 19 drivers completed 95% or more of those laps

Looking at individual drivers:

  • Denny Hamlin completed all but four laps, giving him a 99.96% lap completion rate.
    • Last year, he was second with 99.8% laps run.
  • Kevin Harvick was next, with 9150 laps (99.46%).
    • He was first last year, with 99.97%.
  • Cheers to Tyler Reddick, who came in third with 9141 laps.
  • Cheers also to Josh Bilicki who wasn’t running for Cup points and still finished 95.43% of the possible laps.
  • Champion Kyle Larson completed 9000 laps (97.83%)
  • 2020 Champion Chase Elliott completed 9050 laps (98.37%)

Finishing laps is one of those things you have to do to be a champion, but just doing it isn’t enough.

Lead Lap Finishes

Let’s next look at which drivers finished races on the lead lap.

A vertical stacked bar chart showing laps finished on the lead lap, finished and races DNFd
  • Denny Hamlin shines again here.
    • Hamlin is the only driver with no DNFs this year. He had only one DNF last year.
    • He finished off the lead lap in only two races (spring Talladega and Nashville).
  • Kevin Harvick finished 32/36 races (88.9%) on the lead lap
  • Among championship contenders, Joey Logano had the most DNFs and the fewest lead-lap finishes (26)
  • Let’s shout out Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher. Each finished 27 races on the lead lap
  • Among full-time drivers, Quin Houff finished the fewest number of races on the lead lap: 5

Looking at the field as a whole:

  • 25 full-time drivers finished at least half the races on the lead lap
  • 10 full-time drivers finished at least 3/4 of the races on the lead lap

Laps Led

Much is made of Kyle Larson leading 2581 laps in 2021; however, we must be careful comparing years because there were a different number of possible laps each year.

It is, however, undeniable that he spanked the field.

  • Denny Hamlin led the second-most number of laps at 1502, roughly 60% of the laps Larson led.
  • The third highest finisher, Chase Elliott, led only 952 laps (37% of Larson’s tally).
  • MTJ led 865 laps.
  • It falls off from there. No other drivers led more than 500 laps all season.

Laps Led as a Percentage

Graphing laps led as percentages really shows Larson’s domination of 2021.

In the graph below, I haven’t labeled any driver percentage below 1%: It’s too small to read. The drivers in the second column all led less than 1% of the season’s laps — but they did lead laps.

2021 laps: a pie chart showing percentage of laps led by driver
I tried to use colors from each driver’s main sponsor. I really wish so many of them weren’t blue!
  • The top three drivers accounted for 55% of all 2021 laps led
  • The top four drivers led 64.5% of all 2021 laps.
  • This year, Larson led 28.2% of all laps
    • That’s just about as many laps as the next two drivers combined.
  • Last year, Kevin Harvick led the most laps, with 15.5% of all 2020 laps. This year, Harvick led only 2.4% of all laps.

2021 Laps Run in the Top 15

Denny Hamlin may not have won the championship, but there is no denying he had a very competitive year.

A vertical bar chart showing the percentage of laps run in the top 15 by driver.
  • Hamlin ran almost 90% of all laps in the top 15.
  • That’s 4% more than the second place drivers (a tie between Elliott and Larson)
  • Of championship contenders, Keselowski had the lowest percentage of laps in the top 15 at 74%
  • Kudos again to Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick for being part of the group of 15 drivers who spent at least 60% of their laps in the top 15.
  • It was surprising to see Custer and Briscoe, both driving for top-tier teams completing less than 25% of their laps in the top 15. But there’s only so much room in the top 15.

Fastest Laps

NASCAR tracks which drivers have the fastest time for each lap. Excluding caution laps and getting-up-to-speed laps (like the first lap or the first lap after a caution), that leaves 7594 laps.

2021 laps: A vertical bar chart showing the number of fastest laps by driver
  • Again, Kyle Larson leads this category with 1288 out of the 7594 laps counted.
  • Also again: Denny Hamlin is second, with a little more than half (55%) of the fastest laps that Kyle Larson had.
  • Truex, Jr. and Elliott were third and fourth
  • William Byron had 484 fastest laps, but after that, the numbers drop precipitously.
    • Of championship contenders, Logano had the fewest fastest laps.

2021 Laps: Fastest Laps as a Percentage

Again, it’s instructive to visualize these numbers as percentages.

2021 laps: fastest laps as a percentage of total laps by driver in a pie chart
  • The top 5 drivers account for almost 50% of the fastest laps of the year.
  • The top 2 drivers account for a little more than 25% of the fastest laps of the year
  • Hendrick Motorsports had 35% of the fastest laps (with Larson accounting for half that.)
  • Joe Gibbs Racing had 25.7% of the fastest laps

Again, looking at individual drivers:

  • Kyle Larson had 17% of the fastest laps.
    • Last year, Harvick led with 10.2% of the fastest laps.
    • Although Larson led 28.2% of the laps, he only had the fastest lap time 17% of the time.
  • Denny Hamlin was again second with 9.3% of the fastest laps
  • Hamlin and Truex, Jr. together ran about the same percentage of fastest laps as Larson.

Analysis

Denny Hamlin did everything right in 2021 — except win enough. In just about every metric, he’s #1 or #2. But NASCAR really succeeded in balancing winning with consistent high performance.

That’s why Alex Bowman has four wins, but ended up at #14 in the final rankings, while Hamlin and Chase Elliott (with two wins each) end up third and fourth. Kevin Harvick finished 5th — the exact same place he did last year, when he led most of these metrics.

Coming up: Driver Year-in-Reviews.

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