As I discovered earlier this year, cautions don’t capture everything. Sometimes drivers spin, crash, lose wheels or blow tires, but racing continues. Cautions are inaccurate proxies for counting these incidents.
Improving accuracy requires re-visiting each race in detail to find those incidents that didn’t produce cautions.
So that’s what I did.
I use the same categories for non-caution incidents as for cautions. Only incidents significant enough to cost drivers spots count, regardless of where in the field they happen. I don’t claim to have found every incident, but I think I caught most of them.
The table below summarizes my counts for caution and non-caution incidents in the 2022 Cup Series.
Non-caution incidents comprise 30.1% of total incidents. The percentages, however, vary widely within categories.
For example: While non-caution accidents are just 14% of all accidents, non-caution spins are almost 40% of the total spin count.
Non-caution incidents by race
The graph below shows total incidents — caution and non-caution. I show the races in chronological order from left to right. The totals do not include planned cautions.
The largest number of non-caution incidents happen at road courses. These tracks’ length and sprawling nature allow drivers to recover from a spin or accident without drawing a caution.
- The Indy road course had the highest overall number of non-caution incidents — nine spins, six accidents and one car on fire. That comes to a total of 16 non-caution incidents and three natural cautions.
- COTA had the second-highest total of non-caution incidents with 13 — two accidents, nine spins, one tire issue and one wheel issue. Seven natural cautions bring COTA’s incident total to 20.
- Bristol’s asphalt race came in third in total incidents. Although all of the accidents, spins and stalls recorded there caused cautions, six tire issues and five wheel issues did not. Bristol wins the award for most non-caution incidents at an oval.
Road courses accounted for one-third of all spins in 2022. Capturing total spins is important because spins indicate how easy it is to lose control of the car.
The first third of the season tallied 34 spins. The number rose to 40 in the second third, but fell to 25 in the last 12 races of the year. The numbers from the first two-thirds of the season included 10 spins each at COTA and the Indy Road Course.
The strong dependence of spins on track type makes it hard to draw a conclusion about whether drivers improved their ability to manage the car during the year.
The Next Gen’s symmetry makes the car harder to turn, which demands more from the tires. Crew chiefs also gained the ability to adjust rear camber. Goodyear reported force spikes of 200 to 300 pounds in the tires. Force spikes load a tire quickly, which can lead to blowouts.
I only counted situations in which it was clear that the tire went flat before any other incident, like a spin or accident. If it was possible that another incident caused the tire to blow, I didn’t include it as a tire issue.
I counted a total of 59 blown tires in the 2022 season, which includes those that caused cautions and those that didn’t.
Teams used around 26,600 tires this season. The 59 tire failures represent about 0.2% of all tires run.
Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric had the most blown tires with five each. Bell’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. had four. Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe and Daniel Suarez each had three.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s four cars totaled 13 blown tires or 22% of the total number. Hendrick Motorsports, with the same number of cars, had eight blown tires, while Stewart Haas Racing had only six.
The Bristol asphalt race had the most tire issues, with 13. Texas came in second with eight and Kansas third with five. Atlanta, which was repaved and reconfigured, had six tire issues across its two races.
The number of tire issues at Kansas decreased from five in the first race to two in the second. I expect the overall numbers to go down next year as crew chiefs use what they’ve learned this year to refine their setups.
The Next Gen’s single-lug wheel challenged pit crews, despite built-in indicators that confirm when a wheel is properly tightened. I counted 13 times cars had to back up on pit road to deal with a loose wheel and 19 times cars pitted right after a tire change to re-tighten wheels.
The four-race suspension for crew chief and pit crew members makes teams extra cautious.
I counted 14 wheels coming off cars during the 2022 season. Seven merited cautions. The remaining seven either happened on pit road, or a car that lost a wheel on track was able to make it back to pit road.
Fourteen wheels is 0.05% of all tires used. Again, this number reflects human error more than any design flaw in the wheels. More concerning to me are the handful of stops where teams couldn’t get wheels off cars. For example, debris between the wheel and hub at Darlington ended up costing Ross Chastain four laps.
The good news is that fewer wheels left cars as the season went on.
- Eight wheels came off cars in the first third of the season.
- Four wheels were lost in the second third of the season.
- Only two wheels failed to stay on in the final third of the season.
As is the case for most statistics in the first year of a new car, these numbers will become more meaningful next year, when they’ll serve as benchmarks.