Dr. Diandra: DNFs up 55 percent in 2022

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Drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series have racked up 151 DNFs (did not finish) through 23 races this season. That’s 55.6%  more cars leaving the race before the final laps than during the first 23 races of 2021. The 2022 total is the highest after 23 races since 2017, but it is only short by three.

The graph below shows DNFs by year, all after 23 races. This year’s total is nowhere near the peak of 247 DNFs in 2012. However, the large number of start-and-park cars in the mid-2010s complicates comparing DNF numbers directly.

A vertical bar chart showing the numbers of DNFs after 23 race from 2001 to 2022

Start-and-park cars typically ran a small number of laps before retiring. They usually cited electrical, brake and vibration problems as the reason. I estimate that about 75 of the 247 DNFs in 2012 were start-and-park drivers, so the actual number is more like 172. That’s still above the total this year, but not by much.

Aside from the start-and-parkers, DNFs have gone down over the years because engine failures have decreased significantly. There were almost 100 engine failures in 2004, for example. In the last few years, engine failures caused about 11% of DNFs in a season.

Crashes (in which I include cars eliminated due to the damaged vehicle policy and failure to make minimum speed) remain the most significant cause of DNFs. They usually comprise 60-75% of the total number. The pie chart below shows the reasons for DNFs in 2022.

A pie chart showing the reasons for DNFs in 2022

Where DNFs happen

One reason for the jump in DNFs is Atlanta transforming into a faster superspeedway. As the graph below shows, Atlanta recorded 12 and 11 DNFs in the spring and summer races, respectively. In 2021, the two Atlanta races claimed only three cars.

A vertical bar chart showing the numbers of DNFs in 2022 through 23 races by track.

Atlanta cannot account for the entire increase, however. Some tracks saw increases, while others saw decreases in DNFs relative to 2021. I’ve summarized some of the larger changes in the table below.

A table showing the tracks with the largest changes in number of DNFs from 2021 to 2022

In 2021, only the Daytona 500 had more than 8 DNFs at this point in the year. In 2022, seven races top that number.

Who isn’t finishing?

DNF numbers wouldn’t be so important if most of the drivers involved were well out of the championship race. That’s not the case this year.

No full-time driver has entirely escaped DNFs. The only top-10 driver with no DNFs in 2021 — Denny Hamlin — has five DNFs already this year.

The graph below compares the number of DNFs by driver rank as of the 23rd race of the season for 2021 and 2022. They’re plotted on the same vertical scale, and both include only the top 25 drivers. This is one of those graphs that’s meant to provide an overall feel for how a statistic trends rather than focusing on individual pieces of data.

Two bar charts comparing the numbers of dnfs by driver rank in 2021 and 2022

Hopefully, you can see that the number of DNFs generally rises as you move to higher-ranked drivers. There are always exceptions, but there is an overall trend. The 2022 season shows much less correlation between rank and DNFs.

  • The highest-ranked driver with 3 DNFs came in at 11th in 2021. In 2022, the second-ranked driver has 3 DNFs.
  • 2021’s highest-ranked driver with 5 DNFs was 13th. This season, he’s fifth.
  • Only one top-25 driver had five or more DNFs in 2021. This year, three drivers in the top 25 have six DNFS each: Austin Dillon, Cole Custer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The increases in DNFs are across the board, too.

  • In 2021, the top-five drivers had five DNFs total. This year, the top-five drivers have 15 DNFs — three times more.
  • Last year, the top-10 drivers accounted for 15.9% of DNFs. This year, the drivers ranked one through 10 take credit for 24.8% of the DNFs.
  • Drivers ranked in the top 20 had 33.6% of all DNFs in 2021. In 2022, they have 49.7%.

That last stat shows that the top-20-ranked drivers went from making up a third of the DNFs in 2021 to half the DNFs in 2022.

About the only obvious 2022 trend is that just about everyone has more DNFs this year than they did at the same time last year.

You can see the changes by driver in the graph below. Red indicates a driver with more DNFs in 2022 than in 2021, while blue shows a decrease. Drivers whose DNF totals didn’t change are shown as black dots.

A scatter plot showing dnfs by driver for 2021 and 2022. Arrows indicate whether the driver has fewer or more dnfs this year relative to the same time last year

Two drivers on this graph have a single DNF: Chase Elliott, who is in the playoffs, and Michael McDowell who, so far, is not.

Only three drivers (Elliott, Aric Almirola and Justin Haley) have fewer DNFs now than at this time last year. Three more drivers (McDowell, Erik Jones and Brad Keselowski) have the same number of DNFs as last year. All the rest have more.

Playoff implications

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. — the two drivers battling for what is currently the last available playoff berth by points — have three and two DNFs, respectively.

Richmond had only two DNFs in April. Watkins Glen generally has one to three DNFs, but in 2016 seven drivers failed to finish the race. And, of course, the drivers entering Daytona without a win have nothing to lose.

But the high DNF rate also affects those drivers competing for the championship. Drivers don’t stop crashing just because the playoffs start.

A driver with four DNFs in 23 races has a 17.4% DNF rate. That suggests they should expect at least one DNF and possibly two during the playoffs.

Five DNFs in 23 races is a 21.7% DNF rate, suggesting at least two DNFs for those drivers during the playoffs.

Given that the most playoff points earned by any one competitor is 25 (Elliott), drivers have little in the way of insurance policies. One DNF at the wrong time in a round could eliminate a driver.

Even a Chase Elliott.

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.