Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.
I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.
My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.
The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.
Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?
This year presented an even thornier problem.
The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.
To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.
The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.
Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.
My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.
The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.
The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.
There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.
Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls
I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.
And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.
The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.
Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.
Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.
No full-time driver evaded incidents entirely. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron tallied six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell came in at eight each.
Cautions by race
The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.
But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.
The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.
That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.
Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4 The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).
What about superspeedways?
The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.
But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.
The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.
Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.
We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.
And there were a lot more spins that didn’t bring out cautions.
Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.