Most Wreck-Prone NASCAR Drivers: A Rebuttal

A well-respected writer recently compiled DNF data from racing-results.info. Unfortunately, the resulting article was titled ‘Most Wreck-Prone NASCAR Drivers‘ instead of ‘NASCAR Drivers with the Highest DNF Percentages’.

To be fair, the author acknowledges problems with his analysis. But he didn’t (or couldn’t) change the headline. As a result, many outlets just grabbed the headline and names of the drivers highest on the table.

As the author notes, DNF data is tricky because of the ‘Start and Park’ era. It’s hard to separate legit DNFs due to mechanical failure from start and park cars. That’s why career DNF’s have limited utility unless they separate driver/owner combos.

Accidents

If you’re looking for drivers most likely to be involved in accidents, you have to count — surprise — accidents. While we’re at it, we’ll include spins and stalls.

That gives us the chart below. I’ve included the number of races each driver’s run over their bar.

A vertical stacked bar chart showing crashes (i.e. accidents, spins and stalls) as percentages of races run, by driver

So Who Really Does Crash a Lot?

The number of races run is relevant because we should cut guys like Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton a break. All four drivers have run 20 or fewer races. That’s not enough data to label them as ‘most likely to crash’.

But the next drivers on the list have been around long enough to trust their data. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has about a 40% accident rate. That’s simply the number of total accidents divided by the number of races. He’s had more than one accident in some races. According to the aforementioned article, Stenhouse has a 14% DNF rate. That means not all his accidents and spins take him out of the race. But they certainly don’t improve his chances of winning.

The original article placed William Bryon ahead of Stenhouse, with a 15% DNF rate. But Byron is well behind Stenhouse in terms of crashes. Byron’s accident involvement rate is only 26.1%.

While Michael McDowell may have a 23% DNF rate, he’s actually got one of the lower crash rates. His accident rate is 15.5%. McDowell spent a significant amount of time in start-and-park cars, which is why his DNF rate is so high. It might also be why his accident rate is low: He didn’t run enough laps in the races where he started and parked to get in accidents. If you want a true reflection of his DNF rate, consider last year, when he had a steady, competitive ride. He finished at a little more than 10% DNFs, which is on the very low side of the scale.

The drivers with the lowest accident rates are those who run mostly for small teams that don’t have a lot of money to fix cars. They go out of their way to avoid accidents. They generally don’t finish up front, but being able to make all the races is more important.

Conclusion

As I said, it’s not my style to criticize other writers. But it’s also not fair to drivers to be unfairly tagged as ‘crashy’, especially when that’s not even what the statistic in question measured.

This is why numeracy (the number equivalent of literacy) is so important. If you accept people’s words for things, you’re at their mercy. If they’re wrong — or worse, lying — you’ll never know.

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