2023 Stats Overview: Penalty Numbers

The 2023 Stats Overview: Penalty Numbers summarizes the overall number and types of penalties incurred in NASCAR’s 2023 season. Teams generated a total of 741 total penalties, but not all were accidental. Last year, I counted 808 penalties.

I did not include in that number Kevin Harvick’s disqualification at Talladega because I’m still figuring out whether that belongs in penalties or is already reflected in race results. Penalty data is among the least clear data NASCAR has: it is neither all nicely corralled in one place, nor is it systematic.

Of the 741 penalties, I deemed 396 to be intentional. These include:

  • Pitting before pit road is open, when done because of an accident or other situation in which the penalty for pitting is less than the penalty for staying out
  • Other penalties incurred at the same time as a pitting before pit road is open penalty
  • Other violations that result from pitting due to car damage
  • Penalties that in incurred on a pit stop that results in the car going to the garage

This list is necessarily subjective, so some might argue with a few of my decisions. To a large part, however, the numbers are pretty accurate. They’ve also undergone a lot more scrutiny than previous stats have with the hopes of trying to standardize penalty assignments.

Unintentional Penalties

Subtracting out intentional penalties leaves a total of 345 unintentional penalties. I split unintentional penalties into:

  • Pre-Race Penalties
  • In-Race Penalties
  • Post-Race Penalties

Pre-Race Penalties

Pre-race penalties are those that happen before the green flag. These 57 penalties are mostly due to unapproved adjustments (68.4%) and having to go to backup cars (24.6%).

The only inspection failures included in this stat are repeated failures that resulted in the car being sent to the back of the grid for the race start. Therefore, only William Byron’s multiple-inspection-failure at Indianapolis makes the list.

2023 Pre-Race Penalties
  Number of Penalties
Unapproved Adjustments 39
Backup Car 14
Driver Change 2
Inspection Failure 1
Engine Change 1

These numbers are down relative to past years.

A bar chart showing pre-race penalties from 2019-2023 is part of the 2023 Stats Overview: Penalty Numbers post

The graph below, which shows the types of penalties incurred in each year shows that the decrease is due to two main elements.

A bar chart showing pre-race penalties from 2019-2023 broken down by penalty type is part of the 2023 Stats Overview: Penalty Numbers post

First, the number of cars being sent to the back as a result of failing inspection has plunged in the last two years. Second, there are fewer unapproved adjustment penalties, suggesting that teams are getting better at using simulation tools to set up the car.

There has been a slight decrease in number of backup cars needed, but remember that there are differences between how many practices; whether practices were held at superspeedways; and the messy schedules of the COVID era.

In-Race Penalties

Teams incurred a total of 267 in-race penalties in 2023, which is slightly below last year’s 273 penalties. The number of in-race penalties has decreased from 340 in 2019. The table below shows this year’s breakdown.

2023 Pre-Race Penalties
  Number of Penalties
Speeding on Pit Road 126
Equipment Related 30
Crew Over The Wall Too Soon 22
Tire Violation 15
Off Track 15
Too Many Crew Over The Wall 13
Improper Pit Entry/Exit 11
Lost Wheel (On Track) 8
Lost Wheel (Pit Road) 7
Safety Violation 5
Choose Box Violation 3
Pitting Out of Box 3
Start/Restart Violations 3
Improper Fueling 2
Vehicle Interference 2
Other 1
Passing the Pace Car 1

The largest source of penalties was speeding, with 126 of the 267 penalties, or 47.2% of all in-race penalties. In 2019, 154 of 340 (45.3%) penalties were due to speeding on pit road. So which the overall number of speeding penalties is down, the percentage is slightly up.

31 of the in-race penalties in 2023 happened on the track, which includes penalties for missing chicanes at road courses. The remaining in-race penalties happened on pit road. Tire violations are down primarily because of rules changes. They accounted for 44 penalties in 2019 and just 15 this year.

I counted eight wheels that came off on track and seven that came off on pit road. I separated them because they incur two different penalties. My 2022 stats tabulated 15 loose wheels. Unfortunately, there’s no data before 2022 to compare with.

You can’t compare five-lug wheels coming off with one-lug wheels coming off because you have to massively screw up (or have a major parts failure) to have a five-lug wheel come off.

In contrast, the single-lug wheel requires a greater degree of accuracy, you get one shot at it, and teams are still adjusting to balance speed and surety.

Post-Race Penalties

The final group of penalties are those announced a few days after the race, or which concern off-track events. Although some lost-wheel penalties are formally announced after the race, they happened during the race, so I counted them in the previous category.

Out of the 20 post-race penalties this year, one-quarter of them (5) were behavioral penalties and one-quarter were safety issues.

Among those safety penalties were two drivers (Sheldon Creed and Ryan Newman) penalized for not having required safety equipment.

In addition to behavioral penalties for Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suárez and Chase Elliott, two drivers (Noah Gragson and Cody Ware) were indefinitely suspended. Gragson has since been reinstated.

Post-race monetary penalties totaled $1.17 million dollars. The largest single fine was assessed to Chase Briscoe’s #14 team for a counterfeit part. The two driver safety penalties each brought in $10,000 to the NASCAR Foundation’s coffers.

That’s not all there is to penalties, but it’s enough for one post. While the 2023 Stats Overview: Penalty Numbers gives you the basic numbers, there is much to come

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