Cautions: A New Low for NASCAR

At the start of the season, the big news was that cautions were remarkably down from last year.  As I showed, this isn’t a new trend – it’s a continuing trend since 2007.  Since the season’s data are now complete, I thought it was time to revisit the data.

Plotted at right are the caution data from 2012 compared to the data from the previous six years.  I’ve normalized the cautions to cautions per 100 miles to account for the changing lengths of some races over the years.

Note how the data jump around pretty wildly until about race 10.  That is because averages are only meaningful when you’re averaging enough information.  When you average a small number of measurements, the average fluctuates until you get enough data that the numbers mean something.  You can’t predict anything from the first five or ten races.  Please remember that next year when the prognosticators tell you someone’s season is over just after first Martinsville.

The 2012 data are the green triangles – a whopping decrease in cautions from 2011!  In absolute numbers, there were a total of 218 cautions this year compared with 278 in 2011 and 265 in 2010.  Where were the biggest numbers of cautions?

Highest Lowest
Race Month Cautions/100 miles Race Month Cautions/100 miles
Bristol August 4.87  Fontana  March  0.388
Martinsville October 4.18  Texas  April  0.400
Martinsville April 2.58  KansasHomestead  AprilNovember  0.750

The Nationwide Series didn’t experience the same drop in cautions – in fact, they had just about the same numbers of cautions this year as they did last year.  The tracks with the largest caution rates per 100 miles for Nationwide are:

Highest Lowest
Race Month Cautions
/100 miles
Race Month Cautions/100 miles
Bristol August 6.77  Fontana  March 1.33
Phoenix November 4.90  Iowa  September  1.37
Kansas OCtober 3.88  Dover  September  1.50

Here’s the updated graph, showing cautions per 100 miles since 2001.  You’ll notice that 2012 marks a new low for the Cup Series.

I’m still working on the analysis, but I think my original theory holds for why the number of cautions has been decreasing:  we simply have more drivers with more experience.  There are a lot of veterans and fewer rookies.  The average time each driver has been driving in the series is higher, which means that the drivers are simply better.


Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “Cautions: A New Low for NASCAR”

  1. Very interesting stuff! Seems like the big drops in cautions occurred in 2010 and 2012, neither of which corresponds to a change in scoring or a redesign of the car…so, experienced driver seems like a distinct possibility

  2. This is kinda related. I hear NASCAR fans whining about “fuel mileage” races. Read recently some open-wheel races have been shortened to avoid this. Am I wrong to think the length of the race really doesn’t matter? With fewer cautions, there will be fewer refueling opportunities. Any race that is longer than a fuel run will tempt a crew chief to “roll the dice” and not pit to gain track position.

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