Dr. Diandra: Charlotte offers high probability for a first-time winner

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Tyler Reddick is currently the highest-ranked driver who has never won a Cup Series race. He’s 15th in points coming into Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, fresh off an Xfinity win at Texas Motor Speedway. Although a Cup win has eluded him, he’s finished second twice this year, at Darlington and Bristol dirt. He’s led the sixth-most laps this year.

Might Charlotte be the track where Reddick proves he’s a contender?

On the ‘no’ side are three DNFs and three finishes of 30th or worse in the last four races, plus more than his share of bad luck. Reddick won the pole for the All-Star Open, but had to start from the back due to unapproved adjustments. After fighting his way to the front, he wrecked.

On the positive side, Reddick has the fifth-highest average driver rating at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Two top-10 finishes in three races at the track gives him an average finishing position of 10.33 — and both top-10 finishes came in the 600. His other Charlotte finish is 14th. He earned stage points in five of the six stages in the two Coca-Cola 600s he’s run, and he won at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series.

But here’s one more thing in his favor: Charlotte is the second-most frequent site for drivers to score their first Cup Series win.

Tracks with the most first wins

I started by identifying all drivers who won a race between 1980-2022. That includes the most recent 95 of the 200 total Cup Series winners to date. I then determined the track where each driver had his first win to make the following plot:

A vertical bar chart showing the frequency with which tracks host drivers' first Cup Series wins

 

If you guessed that superspeedways would lead the statistics, you’re half right.

  • Daytona outdoes all other circuits. Fifteen drivers have recorded their first win there.
  • Charlotte Motor Speedway ties with Talladega at nine wins.
  • Bristol, Louden and Martinsville tie for a distant fourth place with five first-time wins each.

Daytona is responsible for 15.8% of all first-time wins within this data set. Taken together, Daytona and Talladega account for 25.2% of first-time wins, while Charlotte takes credit for 9.5%. The top three most-likely tracks for first-time wins account for a little more than one-third of all first-time wins.

But are all first-time winners created equal?

Career-high rank and first-win tracks

I subdivided the data set, separating drivers by the highest season-ending rank achieved in their careers.

A stacked vertical bar chart that breaks first-win tracks down by the highest rank each driver eventually achieved.

Focus first on the red bars, which indicate drivers with one or more Cup Series championships. None won their first race at Daytona, and only one (Brad Keselowski) won his first race at Talladega. Despite accounting for more than one-quarter of first-time wins, the two superspeedways boast only one series champion.

Charlotte Motor Speedway, on the other hand, claims four eventual Cup Series champions: Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth and David Pearson.

Bristol takes second-place honors when it comes to future Cup Series champs with three drivers: Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch.

That’s not to say wins at Daytona or Talladega are any less meaningful than wins at other tracks. It’s just that the nature of racing at these tracks (and the large numbers of cars taken out by accidents) are more conducive to having a wider range of winners.

Out of the 95 drivers represented, only four never finished any higher than 20th at the end of a season. Three out of those four drivers had their first wins at superspeedways.

Career wins vs. first track

If we examine how many career wins each driver posted, we again see differences between the superspeedways and Charlotte.

A stacked vertical bar chart showing the numbers of career wins by first win at track

Of the 15 Daytona winners, 12 (80%) have four or fewer career wins.

  • For five drivers, their Daytona win was their only career win.
  • Another five drivers got a second win.
  • One driver finished with three wins and two with four wins.
  • The two drivers who won more than four races won 10 and 19 races respectively.

The numbers are comparable for Talladega. Out of the nine winners, seven (77.8%) had four or fewer career wins.

Winning at Charlotte doesn’t guarantee a path to the Hall of Fame, but the percentages are quite different from the superspeedways. Of the nine Charlotte winners, only three (33%) won four or fewer races during their careers.

What to watch at Charlotte

After Reddick, Daniel Suárez is the next highest-ranked driver (19th in points) without a Cup Series win. His teammate, Ross Chastain, is one of only two drivers with two wins this season, and Trackhouse Racing has been surprisingly strong this year. The negatives are that Charlotte has not been one of Suárez’s best tracks, and, while he’s showed bursts of promise, he’s tied for second-most number of accidents this year with seven.

Reddick and Suárez’s chances will depend on the nature of Sunday’s race, only the fourth at a non-superspeedway 1.5-mile track. The Next Gen car garnered rave reviews at Las Vegas, but encountered tire issues at Kansas and Texas. Goodyear noted in its weekly news release that it continues to work with teams regarding appropriate minimum tire pressures and rear suspension settings.

But even without a new car, the last five 600-mile races at Charlotte Motor Speedway have been very different races. Cautions varied between four and 16, accidents between one and 11, and numbers of penalties from seven to 25. This is relevant because the more drivers make mistakes or whose cars are damaged in accidents, the greater chance of winning the remaining drivers have.

And while a record number of passes for the lead have happened within the last 10 laps this year, the last five margins of victory at the Coca-Cola 600 have ranged from 0.29 seconds to 10.05 seconds.