Dr. Diandra: Avoiding accidents at superspeedways is more art than science

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Avoiding accidents is a top priority for every driver in Saturday’s regular-season-ending race (7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock) at Daytona International Speedway.

But there’s no scientific way to do it.

Superspeedway statistics

In 2021, 136 caution-causing accidents and spins involved 263 cars in the Cup Series. The four superspeedway races accounted for 17 accidents, which is 12.5% of the season total.

Accidents at those four races, however, involved 96 cars. That’s 36.5% of the total number of cars involved in accidents, even though superspeedways made up only 11.1% of the schedule.

When it comes to multi-car accidents, Daytona and Talladega are overachievers.

Between 2001 and 2021, 86 superspeedway races produced 416 accidents involving 1,986 cars. Only 2 of those 86 races went accident-free. Both were at Talladega: the 2001 spring race and the 2002 fall race.

Daytona is slightly more conducive to crashes and spins than Talladega. Daytona averaged 4.93 accidents per race from 2001-2021, while Talladega averaged 3.65.

The most accidents in a single superspeedway race is 12, at the 2011 Daytona 500. Forty-one cars were involved in accidents. That includes cars involved in more than one accident.

The ‘Big One’ isn’t the biggest threat to playoff hopes

While the “Big One” gets the most attention, most superspeedway incidents involve only a few cars.

  • 31.0% of Daytona and Talladega incidents between 2001 and 2021 involved only one car.
  • 16.5% of the accidents and spins involved two cars.
  • That means almost half the accidents involved no more than two cars.
  • 56.8% of accidents at superspeedways involved three or fewer cars.
  • About 20% of superspeedway crashes involved seven or more cars.
  • Only 4.9% of accidents involved 15 or more cars.

Of course, it doesn’t matter whether a driver is involved in a huge accident or a small one. There’s no correlation between number of cars involved and damage to the cars.

The most cars involved in a single accident is 26. It’s happened three times: twice at summer Daytona races (in 2014 and 2018), and at the 2005 spring Talladega race.

So far this year, Daytona and Talladega have had nine accidents involving a total of 35 cars. The largest accident collected nine cars, but 55.5% of the accidents involved three cars or less.

Finding a safe place

Predicting which running positions are safest is a stout order. A meaningful statistical analysis might be possible if one had access to NASCAR’s raw SMT data, which tracks cars via GPS. Loop data isn’t sufficient because drivers can gain or lose a half-dozen positions in a matter of seconds.

Even with multiple camera angles, using video to determine where cars were running when an accident starts is difficult. It’s also tremendously time-consuming, especially pinning down the positions of cars at the rear of the field.

But even with that data, no strategy guarantees a driver can avoid accidents. The system — thirty-some-odd cars, their drivers and their spotters — is complex enough to make modeling impossible.

Here’s exhibit one for why you can’t predict which cars will be impacted by an accident. The incident is from last year’s summer Daytona race.

A video showing part of an accident at the summer 2021 Daytona race

I slowed the video to highlight how Martin Truex Jr. missed at least four cars on his way to hitting William Byron. Kyle Busch, running immediately ahead of Truex, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., running right behind him, both escaped damage. The cars immediately in front of and behind Byron avoided accidents, as well.

Truex came back down the track — again, missing a number of cars on the way — and clipped Tyler Reddick. Reddick had been running P24.

A video showing the second part of a crash at Daytona in 2021

The driver in P13 took out the driver in P16, yet everyone two rows ahead and two rows behind them avoided contact.

The ‘Big One’ is usually several ‘Little Ones’

Cars brake or scatter to avoid accidents, but some of these cars spin and/or get hit by other cars that are also trying to avoid contact.

In the Daytona incident, a cluster of drivers running in P25-P27 dodged the initial accident — only to be hit by the P22 car after it spun and hit the wall.

A video showing the secondary accidents at the summer 2021 Daytona race

The upper-right corner at the end of the video shows the P36 car, which spun trying to avoid the accident.

An accident starting at P13 affected eight cars between P16 and P36 — but not in any logical or predictable order. A moment’s hesitation, or a choice to go high instead of low, could easily have changed which cars were damaged and which weren’t.

Front-of-field crashes

Increased blocking by leaders produces more accidents at the front of the field, potentially exposing more cars to damage.

Exhibit two is a 12-car accident from this spring’s Atlanta race. I chose it over Talladega or Daytona because the incident happened only a lap after a restart. The cars were pretty well ordered, making it easier to figure out who was where when the accident started.

An annotated video showing a crash from the first Atlanta race in 2022

The still below shows the order of the first few rows of cars before the accident. Red indicates the car that initiated the incident. Orange circles show cars that were damaged, while cars with green circles avoided damage.

An annotated still from the 2022 spring Atlanta race showing which cars made it through a front-of-the-field accident

There’s no rhyme or reason as to which cars make it through and which don’t. The crash kinetics depend on how quickly spotters and drivers react.

Just being in proximity to an accident doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be part of it.

Because the bulk of the Atlanta accident happened on the frontstretch, cars running the lower lane had a slight advantage. They had more space to get away from each other. Cars running against the wall didn’t have that option. But, as the video shows, the lower lane wasn’t entirely immune.

Staying ahead of accidents

Staying ahead of the instigators should, in principle, ensure a driver avoids accidents. But sometimes even that doesn’t work.

In the 2022 Daytona 500, the car running P39 lost a wheel. Twenty positions ahead, the P19 and P20 cars collided. One apparently anticipated the caution coming out faster than the other.

And there’s no staying in front of the accident when the leader causes it. Given the stakes for tonight’s race, expect plenty of blocking, especially at stage ends. Those battling for the remaining playoff positions might consider forgoing stage points so they survive to the end of the race.

There are no safe places on superspeedways.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

MORE: A better way to determine the Cup champion?

Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.