Dr. Diandra: The hidden data on accidents and spins at road courses


Whether fantasy racing or behind the wheel, success requires avoiding drivers who rack up a lot of accidents and spins.

But identifying the drivers involved in the most accidents and spins on road courses is harder than at other types of tracks.

A recent history of cautions

Statisticians usually calculate accidents and spins from the caution list NASCAR releases for each race. The sanctioning body classifies the cause of each caution and which cars were involved.

Cautions are up in 2022 relative to last year. The graph below summarizes numbers and types of accidents through 24 races each season.

A stacked vertical bar chart showing a breakdown of cautions by race and type from 2013-2022 after 24 races
This graph shows the numbers of cautions after 24 races for each season.

I dimmed the competition and stage-end caution bars to highlight what we’ve come to call ‘natural cautions.’ Natural cautions include everything except stage-end and competition cautions.

History exposes trends. For example, the graph shows debris cautions falling from 36 in 2016 to 16 in 2017, when NASCAR introduced the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

The largest cause of cautions in any year are accidents. The 2021 season had the fewest accidents (64) since 1986 — which is how far back I have reliable caution data. We’ve tallied 86 accidents this year.

The 47 spins we’ve had are more than triple last year’s 15 spins. The increase in spins is due to the Next Gen car being harder to drive than the old Gen-6 car. Lack of asymmetry makes the current car much harder to ‘catch’ when it starts to turn.

Although accidents are higher in 2022 than in 2021, they’re lower than 2020, when we had 92 at this point in the season.

Is 2022 really high? Or was 2021 abnormally low?

Road courses are unique

I’m all in favor of NASCAR experimenting with everything from format to schedule — even though their experiments make my job harder. The fewer constants in the data, the more complex the analysis.

The plot below details this year’s cautions by type and race.

A stacked vertical bar chart showing the numbers and types of cautions for the first 24 races in 2022

The Indianapolis road course statistics immediately jumped out at me.

I didn’t need to look up any data to know there was more than one spin in that race. And definitely more than one accident.

Reviewing the race video convinced me that cautions are not an accurate way to measure accidents and spins at road courses. Road courses are long and spread out. Cars can get safely off-track or return to racing after an incident without the need for a caution.

That doesn’t change the fact that there was an incident.

Counting incidents is admittedly subjective. I included only incidents that caused significant position loss or damaged a car enough to force an unscheduled pit stop.

In addition to the incidents on the official caution list, the 2022 Indianapolis road course had:

  • 10 accidents
  • Nine spins
  • Five off-track excursions
  • Two miscellaneous incidents

The one ‘official’ accident, plus the 10 I counted, makes 11 accidents — more than any other track this year. No track has totaled nine spins in one race, either. And the off-track excursions on a road course would be hitting the wall at oval tracks.

I tallied incidents from the other three road courses this year, again based on video.

A table showing the number of Non-caution-causing incidents in 2022

I count 19 accidents and 24 more spins this year than official totals, which makes the increase over 2021 even larger.

Or does it?

Until 2017, the Cup Series visited two road courses each season: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Uncaptured incidents weren’t as important for two reasons. First, road courses were two races out of 29 or more — from 5.5% to 6.9% of the schedule. Second, the year-to-year variation in the two tracks’ numbers was probably small.

But in 2021, road courses made up 19.4% of the Cup Series schedule.

A table showing how the number of road courses in the Cup Series has changed in recent years

NASCAR replaced four tracks where cautions capture most accidents and spins with four tracks where they weren’t.

The huge increase in spins this year is real. We haven’t had more spins in a season since 2002.

But accident totals are suspect pending going back and counting incidents at road courses in 2021. The drop in accidents from 2020 to 2021 may be due (at least in part) to schedule changes rather than drivers.

Implications for Watkins Glen

The number of uncounted incidents probably doesn’t interest fantasy racers as much as knowing which drivers are most likely to have accidents and spins at road courses.

From my count of incidents at the four road courses run this year, the drivers involved in the most incidents are Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and A.J. Allmendinger.

Each was involved in at least five incidents. The number of incidents is greater than the number of races because drivers who have spins or accidents often have more than one in a single race.

Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell managed to avoid incidents entirely at road courses. Other full-time drivers with minimal road-course-incident involvement include: Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey LaJoie.

Ryan Blaney, currently vying with Truex for the last playoff position open on points, has four incidents at road courses this year.

How does all this information affect choices for Watkins Glen (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, USA Network)?

Of the list of most-incident-involved drivers, only Chastain has won on a road course this year.

The other three winners are on the least-incident-involved list.

Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott involved in big crash at Charlotte


CONCORD, N.C. — Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott were involved in a big crash midway through Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and each blamed the other.

Elliott’s car slapped the outside wall near the start-finish line, and his car made contact with Hamlin’s Toyota, sending Hamlin slamming into the wall. The front end of Hamlin’s car was smashed. Elliott’s Chevrolet also was damaged.

Both drivers parked for the evening, and neither was happy.

Hamlin said Elliott had a “tantrum” and said he should be suspended from next week’s race.

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

Elliott had a different view.

“The 11 (Hamlin) put me in the fence, and once you take the right sides off these things it’s kind of over,” he said. “Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them any more.”

Elliott denied intentionally hitting Hamlin, saying the crash was “unfortunate circumstances.”

The wreck produced the race’s seventh caution.




More rain postpones conclusion of Charlotte Xfinity race


CONCORD, N.C. — Despite an improving forecast, rain continued to plague NASCAR and its drivers Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The twice-rescheduled Xfinity Series race was stopped twice because of weather Monday after finally getting the green flag, and the conclusion of the 300-mile race was postponed until after the completion of Monday’s rescheduled 600-mile Cup Series race.

Forty-eight of the race’s scheduled 200 laps were completed before weather and the impending scheduled start of the Cup race intervened.

When (or if) the race resumes Monday night, it will be broadcast by FS2, the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

After 48 laps, Ty Gibbs, John Hunter Nemechek and Justin Allgaier are in the top three positions.

Gibbs won the first stage.

Monday Charlotte Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather


After two days of soaking rains, the longest race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is set for a 3 p.m. ET start Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 600-mile marathon was scheduled for a 6:21 p.m. start Sunday, but persistent rain forced a postponement to Memorial Day.

A look at the Monday Cup schedule:

Details for Monday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:12 p.m. by USO official Barry Morris and retired drivers Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved at 3:23 p.m.

PRERACE: Driver introductions are scheduled at 2:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given by retired Air Force Master Sergeant Monty Self at 3 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Elizabeth Marino at 3:04 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 400 laps (600 miles) on the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 100. Stage 2 ends at Lap 200. Stage 3 ends at Lap 300.

STARTING LINEUP: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 3 p.m. and can be heard on goprn.com. … SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: Foxsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — The forecast calls for overcast skies with a high of 71. There is a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won last year’s 600 as the race was extended to two overtimes, making it the longest race in distance in Cup history.

Monday Charlotte Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Charlotte Motor Speedway’s rescheduled NASCAR Xfinity Series race is set for an 11 a.m. start Monday.

The race originally was scheduled Saturday, but was postponed by weather to noon Monday. After Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 Cup Series race also was postponed to Monday, the Xfinity Series race was moved to an 11 a.m. start.

A look at the Monday Xfinity schedule:

Details for Monday’s Xfinity race at Charlotte Motor Speedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 11:01 a.m. by representatives of race sponsor Alsco Uniforms … The green flag is scheduled to be waved at 11:12 a.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opened at 8 a.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) on the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

STARTING LINEUP: Charlotte Xfinity starting lineup (Justin Haley will replace Kyle Busch in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing car).

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 11 a.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 11 a.m. and can be heard on goprn.com. … SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: Foxsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — The forecast calls for overcast skies with a high of 71. There is a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Josh Berry won last May’s Xfinity race. Ty Gibbs was second and Sam Mayer third.