Dr. Diandra: Cup driver experience matters more than age


Driver experience doesn’t always trump driver age — except when you’re talking data analysis. Age is an obvious choice for a variable. It’s a number, it’s easily calculated, and it’s hard to dispute. But it isn’t always meaningful.

In some cases, age is tightly correlated to experience. Most students in a fifth-grade class will be 10-11 years old and they all learn the same things. A class in a two-year college, however, might have students ranging from 16 to 75 years old. Depending on the topic, the 16-year-old might have more experience than the 75-year old.

NASCAR is much more like a two-year college than fifth grade, at least in terms of how age and experience correlate.

Racecar drivers can compete for much longer than athletes whose bodies are their competition vehicles, like gymnasts. Kids start racing at much earlier ages today. They move up the ladder faster and reach the Cup Series at younger ages than their predecessors. Consider two scions of notable NASCAR families:

A table comparing the ages at which Chase Elliott and Dale Jarrett reached career milestones

And let’s face it. There’s nothing magical about ages ending in zero. If we counted in base 12, we’d focus on ages 12, 24 and 36 instead of 10, 20 and 30.

The last 12 races have been won by under-30 drivers. If we chose age 29 as our cutoff, that group would only have won the last four races in a row, and seven out of the last 12 races because Kyle Larson is over 29.

Races run as a measure of experience

The best way for a driver to get better is seat time. So why not quantify a driver’s experience as the number of races he or she has run? Our six race winners this year span from ages 23 to 29, but they are far more diverse if we consider Cup races run.

A vertical bar chart showing the number of races each of the under-30 winners of the 2022 system has run in their career

Does it really make sense to group Kyle Larson (17 wins) and Alex Bowman (7 wins) with first-time winners Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe?

For that matter, does it make sense to group Cindric and Briscoe with fellow first-time winner Ross Chastain? Chastain has run almost 10 times the number of Cup races Cindric has run and almost three times the number Briscoe has completed.

I’d argue not. Furthermore, as the age profile of drivers changes, using age as a parameter makes it harder to compare today’s driver with drivers of the past.

Experience levels of full-time 2022 drivers

Last week, I examined how the percentage of full-time drivers under age 30 has changed throughout the years. Let’s repeat that analysis, but with number of races run. I chose number of races rather than seasons because some drivers may not run all the races in a season.

Let’s start with full-time drivers in 2022. I’m plotting the number of races run coming into the 2022 season, which is why these numbers are six less than the numbers in the graph above.

A vertical bar chart showing the number of races won by each full-time Cup driver at the start of the 2022 season

As you might expect, this group spans a pretty large range of experiences. Todd Gilliland came into 2022 as a true rookie. Kurt Busch narrowly beat Kevin Harvick for most races run by an active full-time driver with 756 entering this year.

All but seven drivers had at least 72 races under their belts at the start of the 2022 season. In other words, about 80% of full-time drivers entered the 2022 season with the equivalent of at least two years of experience. The graph below shows the percentage of the field having a certain number of equivalent years’ experience.A vertical bar graph showing the percentge of the 2022 field with 1 through 6 years of experience.


In 2022, 54.1% of all full-time drivers are under age 30 — but 80% of drivers have two or more years of Cup Series experience.

Is driver experience level unique to 2022?

The percentage of full-time drivers under 30 has changed over the years, as shown in the graph below.

A vertical bar graph showing the percentage of full-time drivers under age 30 from 1980-2022 labeled with percentages

You can see the three waves of younger drivers in the mid 80’s, the mid-2000s and the early 2020s.

Does driver experience follow the same pattern? If so, we would expect peaks in the percentage of drivers with a particular experience level where there are valleys in the age graph. Compare the bumps and dips in the above graph with the graph below. The graph below shows the percentage of Cup drivers coming into each season with at least 72 Cup races run.

Thepercent of full-time cup drivers who ran at least 72 races coming into that year's season.
Each bar shows the percentage of full-time Cup drivers who came into the season having run at least 72 Cup races.


We don’t see such a clear trend when we use driver experience as a variable.

  • We do see peaks on the bottom graph when there are a very low percentage of young drivers around 2011-2013.
    • In 2011, the least experienced driver had run 53 races.
    • In 2012, the least experience driver had run 35 races
  • But the percentage of drivers with the equivalent of at least two years of experience has remained pretty steady (between 75%-80%) over the last nine years.


While our current crop of NASCAR winners is younger, they are by no means inexperienced. Consequently, we shouldn’t make a big deal of experienced drivers winning races, even if they are young. Here’s what we should look for:

The median experience level for the 2022 full-time field (as of Daytona) was 181 races. Median means that half of the drivers are above this number and the other half are below. Larson, Bowman, Elliott and Ryan Blaney are in the top half of experienced drivers in the Cup Series field.

If one of these drivers wins Richmond, we shouldn’t release the balloons because the streak of another driver under 30 winning continues. But if Corey LaJoie (age 30) or Daniel Suarez (also 30) win, we should herald the continuation of another streak: drivers with less experience beating out their more experienced peers.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.