Dr. Diandra: Late-race lead changes highlight historic competition in 2022


Fans entered the 2022 season with high expectations for the Next Gen car. Midway through the regular season, it seems that one of the biggest expectations — a broader group of drivers capable of competing for wins — has been fulfilled. That success may be one reason the vitriol aimed at the All-Star Race was so strong. We’ve been spoiled.

Given variables like track preparation, weather and sheer luck, it’s impossible for every race in a season to be great. But 2022 has, so far, brought an awful lot of good racing.

Closer Endings

For example, I’ve arranged the margins of victory for races in the 2022 season from smallest to largest in the graph below. Dover is not shown because it ended under caution.

A vertical bar chart sowing margins of victory for the 12 races that ended under green in the 2022 season

Of the 12 races this season that ended under green:

  • 100% had margins of victory less than 1.5 seconds.
  • 83.3% had margins of victory less than one second.
  • 58.3% of the races were won by less than a half second.

Only 56.2% of races in 2021 were won by less than 1.5 seconds. Last year’s spring Las Vegas race was won by 3.156 seconds compared to 0.178 seconds this year. Even the much-maligned 2022 Martinsville race had a 0.303-second margin of victory compared to 1.972 seconds in 2021.

Of course, margin of victory doesn’t tell the whole story. A driver could lead the entire race and win by a narrow margin of victory, but few fans would call that an exciting race.

Final passes for the lead

One much-noted statistic about this year’s racing is that the last pass for the lead came in the final 10 laps of the race 10 times in the first 13 races. That’s a record. How meaningful a record is it? Without context, you don’t know if the previous record was nine races in the first 13 or five races.

To test how impressive 2022’s last-pass-for-the-lead record is, I surveyed every race from 1970 to the present. It’s difficult to go back much further because there’s less reliable information about lead changes for earlier races.

I excluded races shortened by bad weather or darkness, then determined how many races had final passes for the lead within the last 10 laps. Because each season included a different number of races, I express results in percentages.

The next graph shows the 10 seasons with the highest percentage of races in which the final pass for the lead happened within the last 10 laps.

A vertical bar chart showing the percentages of races in which the last pass for the lead happened in the final 10 laps.

Not only does the 2022 season-to-date rank highest, it does so by 21.3% over the next closest season, 2017. The 2017 season beats the third-ranked season by 7.0%, and then we settle in to a series of seasons separated by much smaller differences.

Only eight of the 53 seasons considered had 40% or more races satisfy the criterion. The lowest two seasons in my dataset are 1992 and 1973, both of which had only 11.1% of races with a final pass for the lead within the last 10 laps.

All of the seasons that made the graph, with the exception of 1981, are in the 21st century. 1981 was an exceptional season, with last-lap passes in five of the 31 eligible races. That 16.1% of races with last-lap passes is highest in this dataset.

This season has had two last-lap passes for the win — at Bristol dirt and Talladega. With 23 more races, including three superspeedways, 1981’s record may also fall this year.

A five-decade-plus trend

This year is part of an overall trend toward closer racing. That’s not surprising — drivers don’t win races by multiple laps these days — but it is satisfying when expectations align with the data.

I made a box plot for the percentage of races with final passes for the lead within the last 10 laps, grouping the data by decade. The leftmost box includes races from 1970-1979, the next box from 1980-1989 and so on.

A boxplot showing the percentages of races with passes for the lead in the last 10 laps.

If you’re not familiar with box plots:

  • 50% of the data points fall within the shaded area. Since there are 10 years in all but the 2020 decade, that means the five middle years are represented by the boxes.
  • The horizontal line shows the median value: half of the data points are above this value and half are below.
  • The ‘whiskers’ — the thin vertical lines ending in horizontal lines — represent the expected statistical minima and maxima of the dataset.
  • The two dots for the 1990s indicate seasons with percentages so far from the median that they’re considered outliers. The top dot is 1994 and the bottom one is 1992. The two outliers are more indicative of the rest of the races being very similar than they are of anything else.
  • The 2020s have only 2.36 seasons of data, but I wanted to include them to show the trend’s direction.

The median values for the percentage of races that have passes for the lead in the last 10 laps has climbed over the last five decades. But even with this trend, 2022’s value (so far) of 76.9% is truly exceptional.

A broader look at end-of-race lead changes

To check whether 2022 had such strong stats only because we chose to look at 10 laps from the end, I ran the same analysis, with different numbers of laps from the end.

2022 leads all other seasons for final passes for the lead within the last one (30.8%), two (38.5%), five (46.2%), 10 and 20 laps. 2022 doesn’t have any races with last lead changes between 10 and 20 laps, so the average is the same for both: 76.9%

Where 2022 doesn’t rank is in passes within the last 50 laps. Why look so far out? Because races where someone leads that many laps at the end tend not to be as exciting as those with lead changes close to the checkered flag.

The graph below shows the 10 seasons with the most final lead changes within the last 50 laps of the race. In other words, these are the seasons with the fewest races in which one car dominated at the end.

A vertical bar chart showing the top 10 seasons with the highest percentage of races with a final lead change coming within the last 50 laps.

The 2010 season wins this competition, with 94.4% of its races having the final lead change within the last 50 laps. 2022 just misses making the cut with its 84.7%. The lower number is because, of the three races without a lead change in the last 10 laps, the last lead changes happened at 23 laps (Phoenix), 52 laps (Dover) and 82 laps (Martinsville).

Going forward, the question is whether the shake-up will continue, or whether one driver (or one owner or manufacturer) will figure something out and dominate the summer.


Corey LaJoie calls fourth-place finish ‘huge’ for him, Spire Motorsports


HAMPTON, Ga. — With about 30 laps left in Sunday’s Cup race, Joey Logano looked around and suddenly saw Corey LaJoie’s car near the front.

“Oh, there he is,” Logano, the eventual winner, said he thought to himself. “Where has he been all day?

“Corey just kind of popped up there.”

LaJoie took a methodical approach — he ran in the top 10 for only 13 of the first 167 laps — and found himself toward the front for the third consecutive race since Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured. 

His career-best fourth-place finish Sunday continued his strong runs at Atlanta, but also showed the growth in his Spire Motorsports team. While it’s only five races into the season, LaJoie is 14th in the points. He’s never finished better than 29th in Cup.

LaJoie placed fifth at Atlanta in March 2022 and was passed by Chase Elliott for the lead two laps from the finish in the July 2022 race there. Sunday, his push launched Logano on the final lap to pass Brad Keselowski for the win. 

While LaJoie continues to seek his first career Cup win, he was excited about his result.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” he said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

Also significant was that LaJoie was the top-finishing Chevrolet.

“That’s a really big deal for us,” crew chief Ryan Sparks told NBC Sports. “Just kind of prove ourself and hopefully continue to build a relationship with Chevrolet. It’s always great to be (Chevrolet’s) top finisher. Obviously, we want to win the race. We’re getting closer. I think we’ll get up there for the year is done.”

After failing to make the feature in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race, LaJoie finished 16th in this year’s Daytona 500. He followed that by placing 14th at Fontana, California and then was 20th at Las Vegas and 26th at Phoenix before Sunday.

He has an average finish of 16.0 in the first races of the season. He’s never had an average finish better than 24th in his previous full-time Cup seasons. 

His performance this year has him in a playoff spot and ahead of in the standings:

  • Three cars from Stewart-Haas Racing
  • Both cars from 23XI Racing
  • Both cars from Legacy Motor Club
  • Both cars from Front Row Motorsports
  • All the Hendrick cars (although their penalties will be appealed)
  • Both Kaulig Racing cars

“We’ve started the year off really, really solid,” LaJoie said. “I don’t think we could have started any better. We messed up at Phoenix, but we came back and rebounded and put a good payday in the bank and a couple of points around the guys we are racing as well.

“It’s inevitable that a lot of the guys we’re in front of are going to catch us, those guys are the ones that run top 10 and top 15 consistently, so we have to get to where we can, on any given intermediate or any given short track, run in the top 15 a little bit better. We’re getting there. Days like this give us more confidence.”


Sunday’s race matched two drivers who are among the best in the sport at speedway style racing dueling for the win in former teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

It marked the first time they had finished 1-2 in a speedway style race, as Logano passed Keselowski on the last lap to win Sunday at Atlanta.

“I feel like Brad is one of the top five best speedway racers on the racetrack,” Logano said. “I feel like I’m in there. A few others that are in there that you just know are really, really good at it.

“We were kind of duking it out back and forth, side by side, side drafting each other. Okay, this is what you would expect. It’s fun going up against the best like that.

“He works really hard at it. He studies it. He’s really smart at speedway racing, for sure. When you think of driver and spotter combinations, you’re going against two of the best right there, right? Whether it’s T.J. (Majors) and Brad or myself and Coleman Pressley) , if I’m picking a couple pairings of people that understand the draft, those two groups are the best at it. So it was fun to kind of go back and forth there at the end.”

Said Keselowski of racing Logano: “We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it’s just a matter of how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way there at the end and he made a good move. Kudos to him.”

It was a much different ending from their duel on the final lap of the 2021 Daytona 500. Logano led Keselowski when they made contact, triggering a multi-car crash and allowing Michael McDowell to win the race.


Brad Keselowski’s runner-up finish continued his improved start to the season compared to last year. 

“We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of,” Keselowski said, “so I’m proud of that.”

A look at how much better this season has started for Keselowski compared to last year:

His average finish in the first five races of this season is 13.2 compared to 19.2 at this time last year.

He’s run in the top 15 in 85% of the laps run this season compared to running in the top 15 in 37.4% of the laps in the first five races of last season.

His average running position in a race is 9.5 this year compared to 18.3 at this time last year.




Several Cup drivers running extra race at COTA


Seven Cup drivers will do double-duty this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.

Four Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the road course in Austin, Texas. They are:

Aric Almirola (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing)

AJ Allmendinger (No. 10 Kaulig Racing)

William Byron (No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports)

Ty Gibbs (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing)

Three Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at COTA. They are:

Alex Bowman (No. 7 Spire Motorsports)

Ross Chastain (No. 41 Niece Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports)

In the Cup Series, there are 39 entries that includes a few road racing specialists:

Jordan Taylor (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports)

Jenson Button (No. 15 Rick Ware Racing)

Kimi Raikkonen (No. 91 Trackhouse Racing)

Also entered this weekend is Jimmie Johnson in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club and IndyCar driver Conor Daly in the No. 50 for TMT Racing.

COTA Cup Entry List

COTA Xfinity Entry List

COTA Truck entry list





Winners and losers at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:


Joey Logano — Logano had won 31 Cup Series races entering Sunday’s 400-miler, but none had come at Atlanta. He changed that statistical column in a big way, leading 140 laps and making a risky move around leader Brad Keselowski on the final lap to record win No. 32.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski’s struggle to return RFK Racing to prominence has taken many months, but he has had impressive runs this year. He led 47 laps Sunday and was on the verge of victory.

Christopher Bell — With better organization from the Toyotas at the front, Bell would have had a shot at a win. He finished third and has been in the top six in four of the season’s five races.

Corey LaJoie — Sunday’s fourth-place run was LaJoie’s best in 205 Cup starts, and his smart start to the season is an indication that better things might be ahead.


William Byron — Byron’s two-race winning streak ended with a thud — literally — Sunday as he was involved in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd.

Kevin Harvick — From one instant to the next, Harvick fell from first place to out of the race. He lost control of his car in tight racing with Ross Chastain and hit the wall. He finished 33rd.

Kyle Larson — Larson fought the good fight with the more dominant Fords much of the day in the top 10, but his car was damaged in a crash with Aric Almirola. Larson parked and finished 31st.

Long: One lap, 30 seconds of action with so much at stake at Atlanta


HAMPTON, Ga. — As they began the final lap of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski led Christopher Bell by a car length. Joey Logano ran third, with Corey LaJoie on his rear bumper in fourth, and Tyler Reddick beside LaJoie in fifth.

So much was at stake over the final 1.54 miles and would be determined in the next 30 seconds on a brisk day at a track that looks like an intermediate speedway but races like Daytona and Talladega. 

Here’s what mattered for each:

  • Keselowski sought to end a 66-race winless streak that stretches nearly two years.
  • Bell looked to score his third win in the last nine Cup races, which would have been more than any other driver in that span.
  • Logano sought a win in a season that Fords have had few chances to do so.
  • LaJoie was focused on winning his first Cup race.
  • Reddick looked to earn his first victory with his new team.

It started with Keselowski, who is in his second year as owner-driver at RFK Racing. The organization fought through struggles last year before teammate Chris Buescher won the Bristol night race. 

Keselowski was going for his first Cup victory for his team in what has been a markedly better start to this season compared to last year.

“You need days like this,” Keselowski said afterward. “You just wish they were wins. We were right there, just didn’t come together at the end.”

Bell is proving to be the under-appreciated ace in the Cup series. 

He twice needed to win to advance in the next round of the playoffs last year — and did so. Both victories were overshadowed. The focus at the Charlotte Roval was on Chase Briscoe eliminating Kyle Larson from the playoffs instead of Bell’s win. Ross Chastain’s video game move was the talk of Martinsville instead of Bell’s triumph that day.

Nobody had won this year in Cup except Chevrolet drivers. That made this a key race for Ford and Toyota drivers. 

“We haven’t had the start to the season we’d want or hope for,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano. “The West Coast swing was pretty rough on us. We had speed at times, but not really where we need to be on any of those tracks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.

“We know the speedways with all the aero changes to all the manufacturers, the speedways are probably the strengths for the Fords right now. I think we saw that in Daytona as well. If you look at qualifying (Saturday), that will probably point to that same sign.

“We have to take advantage of these races right now. If this is our strength, we got to make sure we execute. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, is we were able to come here and get the win. Now we’ve really have to squeeze hard to get more speed out of our cars on the downforce tracks.”

LaJoie finished fifth in this race a year ago and was passed for the lead with two laps to go. He entered Sunday’s race winless in 204 career Cup races. He had three top-20 finishes in the first four races of the year, solid performances for his Spire Motorsports team. He’s gained some attention for those efforts.

“If we have a good car like we saw at Fontana or Las Vegas,” LaJoie said earlier this week of his 14th at California and 20th at Las Vegas, “then I can go get the job done and be up front. So, certainly a crucial beginning part of the season for me with the future of my career. I want to make sure people know what I’m capable of, no matter whether it’s an intermediate or a short track or superspeedway.”

Reddick is in his first season with 23XI Racing and it has been a rough start to the season. He was eliminated by accidents in the first two races of the year. He scored his first top 10 of the year last week at Phoenix and looked for even more Sunday.

It is what all those situations hovering as the white flag waved to begin the final lap.

The key moment came with LaJoie planted on the back of Logano’s rear bumper on the inside lane.

“Joey got such a huge run down the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “There was nothing I could do to stop it other than wreck all of us.”

Logano said that LaJoie “clobbered me at the start/finish line, gave me such a big run.”

That energy allowed Logano to go from the bottom lane to the top lane — while narrowly slipping between Keselowski and Bell.

“When you get a run like that on the last lap, you can’t lift, you just can’t,” Logano said. 

He knew he needed to move up the track to avoid having Keselowski block him on the bottom lane.

“I had to get up there and slip to his outside,” Logano said. “Ultimately, that’s the move that was going to win the race.

“If I got to his inside, you have a chance, maybe a 20% chance of winning the race depending on what kind of push you get down the backstretch. Most likely we were not going to win the race.”

He did and Keselowski finished second.

“We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it just matters how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way at he end and he made a good move,” Keselowski said. “Kudos to him. We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of, so I’m proud of that.

Bell finished third and was left to wonder what if.

“I had the position (Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top,” Bell said. “To come so close is disappointing.”

LaJoie finished a career-best fourth.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” LaJoie said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

For Reddick, a day that started with John Hunter Nemechek on standby because Reddick wasn’t feeling well, ended with Reddick scoring his second consecutive top five.

“I was trying to create an opportunity to where myself Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin could all break away and take advantage of momentum,” Reddick said. “It didn’t quite work out timing-wise where it needed for that. All in all, an OK day.”