More-Experienced Drivers Fared Worse with the Next Gen Car: Season Rankings

From the start of the 2022 season, it was clear that more-experienced drivers fared worse with the Next Gen car than their less-experienced counterparts.

Some veteran drivers, like Denny Hamlin, seemed to come to grips with the car in the later portions of the season.

Others didn’t.

One measure of the struggle to adapt is the change in a driver’s season-ending rank.

Changes in Season Ranking: 2021-2022

My first graph shows the changes in season ranking for all drivers who ran full seasons in 2021 and 2022. I discuss this graph’s in my NBC Sports column, but I wanted to expand on some of the details here.

A bar graph showing how drivers' 2022 rankings changed relative to 2021 rankings. The more-experienced drivers had worse seasons in the Next Gen car.

The drivers with the biggest losses (on the left) are veteran drivers, while those with the largest gains (on the right) are less-experienced drivers.

A better way to view this data (although it obscures the starting and ending points) is by plotting the change versus driver experience.

More-Experienced Drivers in the Next Gen Ca

Age is a lousy proxy for experience. The number of races run is a much better measure — although it still doesn’t account for individual talent. But there’s only so much you can do with a single parameter. The positive is that we’re comparing each individual to himself in this analysis.

So let’s plot change in rank versus number of races run at the end of the 2022 season. Again, I include only drivers who ran all races in both seasons,

A scatter graph showing change in rank versus number of races run.

I discussed individual drivers in the NBC article. Here, I want to focus on the trend. The data trend from lower right to upper left. There’s a lot of scatter because only 19 drivers were eligible.

Here’s the same graph without names, but with a line to guide the eye. Even with the small amount of data, I think it’s pretty strong numerical confirmation that more-experienced drivers fared worse with the Next Gen car.

A scatter plot showing the change in rank vs. races run with a line showing the trend

But Don’t More-Experienced Drivers Normally Do Worse?

Just to check, I made the same graph for 2020-2021.

A scatter plot showing changes in rank for 2020 and 2021 versus number of races run. The more-experienced drivers didn't do uniformly worse, in contrast to the introduction of the Next Gen car

This graph shows much smaller changes and the lower left/upper right trend isn’t evident. More-experienced drivers (as a group) didn’t do significantly worse with the same car.

Why Not Age?

I plotted the same data versus the driver’s age as of the last race of the 2022 season.

A scatter plot of change in season rank versus driver age shows that more-experienced drivers fared worse with the Next Gen car

You can see the same overall trend, but it’s less evident plotting the data this way.

Other Data Support the Trend

The elimination-playoff format skews the season rankings. The numbers say that Kyle Busch had a better season than Tyler Reddick, but I don’t buy that.

Top-10 and average finish data, because they aren’t subject to the artificial constraints of the playoff format, are more objective. I didn’t have time to get into the particularities of that data in the other article, so I’m showing it here.

Both metrics they show the same trend as the rank data.

Top-10 Finishes

I used the slider widget here so that you can see the data without names cluttering up the graph; however, I thought you might also be interested in which data point corresponds to which driver.

A scatter plot showing the change in the number of top-10s each driver earned in 2021 compared to 2022

Average Finish Position

A scatter plot comparing changes in average finishing position fro 2021-2022

I think the changes in average finish shows the trend most clearly.

All three parameters together make a strong case that more-experienced drivers fared worse with the Next Gen car than less-experienced drivers.

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