Dr. Diandra: The most (and least) accident-prone drivers at Talladega

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Winning a superspeedway race requires two types of skill — drafting and avoiding accidents. To identify the most and least accident-prone drivers at Talladega, I examined all races from 1972 to last fall’s playoff race. I assigned each driver a score by dividing the total number of accidents by the number of races run.

Theoretically, scores should be between 0 and 1. You can think of this number like a batting average, except lower is better when it comes to accidents. Unlike batting averages, a driver can be involved in more than one accident per race, so accident scores could be greater than one.

I include all drivers who have run at least 10 Talladega races between 1972 and the present. I only include accidents that caused NASCAR to bring out a caution. I didn’t include spins.

My usual caveat: A high score shouldn’t automatically be interpreted as signaling that the driver causes a lot of crashes. Some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The most accident-prone drivers

The table below shows all drivers with scores above 0.600.

A table showing the most-accident-prone drivers at Talladega from 1972-the present

Road course ace Marcos Ambrose has the highest score of any driver at 0.92. That score arises from 11 accidents in 12 Talladega races. Given that superspeedway racing is unique to NASCAR, it’s not surprising that the Australian import struggled. His average finish was 23.4 with two DNFs.

The second-highest score comes from a current driver known for his aggressive approach to superspeedways. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has 16 accidents in 19 races with four DNFs. Stenhouse’s aggression has, on occasion, paid off. He won the spring Talladega race in 2017 and this year’s Daytona 500. But in the six Talladega races he’s run for JTG-Daugherty Racing, his average finish is 21.8.

Third on the list of most-accident-prone drivers is Danica Patrick, with a 0.80, or an average of four crashes for every five races. She ran a total of 10 races with four DNFs and an average finish of 25.8

Most of the names in this table are current or recent drivers. That’s because accidents at Talladega have gone up over time and the number of cars involved in accidents has also risen.

Honorable mention: Ryan Preece didn’t qualify for the table because he hasn’t run enough races, but he has seven accidents in six races for a 1.17 score. Despite the high accident score, Preece’s average Talladega finish is 15.3 — in JTG-Daugherty Racing equipment. Keep an eye out for Preece. If he can finish an average of 15th with all those accidents, imagine what he might be able to do if he stays out of the chaos.

Most drivers are in the middle

Most drivers’ scores fall between 0.3 and 0.6. Because there are a lot of drivers in the middle. I include just a few of the best-known names in the table below.

Representative drivers with scores around the middle in terms of most-accident-prone drivers at Talladega from 1972-the present

This table features a mix of drivers from different decades, although the more recent drivers do tend to have higher scores.

Jeff Gordon (six Talladega wins) is on the low end of the scoring spectrum, with an effective crash rate of about 30%. Jimmie Johnson (two wins) is closer to the other end of the list, with an effective crash rate of about 55%.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is slightly lower than 50/50 with a 0.486. But even with an almost 50% chance of accident, he has six wins and an average finish of 15.4. That shows that avoiding accidents isn’t the only key to winning at Talladega.

Chase Elliott, recently returned from a six-week layoff after breaking his leg, is smack dab in the middle. On average, he’s as likely to be involved in an accident as not. Given that he’s still healing, it will be interesting to see if he chooses to back off if other drivers get too aggressive too early in the race.

The least accident-prone drivers

A table showing the least -accident-prone drivers at Talladega from 1972-the present

The drivers with the least number of accidents mostly come from an earlier time. That’s for two reasons: The first is the same reason I gave for why the most accident-prone drivers are mostly current drivers: Fewer accidents involving fewer cars back in the day.

The other factor is that there were a lot more DNFs back in the day due to mechanical failures.

For example: Darrell Waltrip has just four accidents over 55 Talladega races. He also has 23 DNFs. Twenty of those DNFs were in the first 33 races he ran. The vast majority of his failures to finish were not due to accidents. They were because of mechanical failures. Waltrip completed only one of his first nine Talladega races: He retired from the other eight with blown engines, transmissions or oil leaks.

Bobby Allison had only two accidents at Talladega, but one of them was the 1987 tumble that led NASCAR to implement restrictor plates (now tapered spacers.)

Dale Jarrett is one of the more recent drivers on the list of least accident-prone drivers with a 0.119 score. He had just five accidents in 42 races — and many of those races were during the time that accidents were on the rise.

I would be remiss not to mention current driver Corey LaJoie, with just two accidents in 10 races. His finishing average at Talladega is 21.4, with four top-15 finishes and only one DNF.

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

Dr. Diandra: Is 2023 the season for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption?


Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two career Cup Series wins in 364 starts. But both wins — and his career-high 13th-place season finish — happened back in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the news every now and then at a superspeedway but could be counted upon to head up season-ending lists of drivers involved in the most accidents. In the years Stenhouse hasn’t been at the top of the list, he’s been near the top.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse throughout his NASCAR career. Jack Roush went so far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days in the Xfinity Series because he tore up so much equipment.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, going on to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way his 2023 season has started, it looks as though Stenhouse might be on a similar mission of redemption this year in the Cup Series.

Finishing races

Stenhouse started the 2023 season in the best possible way – winning the Daytona 500. But drivers from less-funded teams who win early superspeedway races usually settle to the bottom of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks 13th heading into Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Standings aren’t as good a ruler this year as they usually are because of drivers missing races and teams incurring penalties. But Stenhouse’s statistics back up his ranking.

Stenhouse has finished every race this year on track, as opposed to in the garage or on the hook. Only Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the same distinction.

In 11 of those 14 races, Stenhouse finished on the lead lap. That’s the same number of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for most races finished on the lead lap with 13 each.

This time last year, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he would be involved in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this year, Stenhouse has been involved in only two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire go out at Darlington.

Approaching his career best

I compare three years in Stenhouse’s career in the table below: the 2017 season — his best to date — along with last year and the 14 races run so far this year.

A table comparing loop data stats for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing his path to redemption

Stenhouse’s current average finishing position of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth best in the Cup Series. That’s 9.3 positions better than Stenhouse’s 2022 average. He’s even beating his 2017 average by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying results are down a bit from 2017 — but remember that those numbers are from the days when NASCAR allowed multiple practice sessions. Stenhouse is only two positions worse relative to 2017, but 7.6 positions better than last year when it comes to establishing his spot on the starting grid.

Stenhouse’s average running position is comparable to 2017 and 2.8 positions better than 2022. He ranks 20th among full-time Cup Series drivers in average running position. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still more than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 average running position this year.

More interesting is the difference between Stenhouse’s average running position his average finishing position. Some drivers run better than they finish. Stenhouse is doing the opposite.

In 2017, Stenhouse finished about 1.4 positions better than he ran. This year, he’s gaining an average of about five positions from where he runs.

One might argue this gain results from the plethora of late-race incidents this year that have removed drivers in the front of the field from contention. But Stenhouse deserves credit for putting himself in a position to benefit from those events.

Stenhouse’s green-flag speed rank is 11th among full-time Cup Series drivers. His 15.3 average, however, is 1.7 positions worse than 10th-place Kyle Busch. Still, it’s impressive that JTG Daugherty is right there in the mix with much better-funded teams. William Byron again has the best average green-flag speed rank at 7.9.

Consistently strong finishes

It’s not uncommon for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. But Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win appears to be something more. The table below summarizes his wins and finishes for the same three years.

A table comparing finishes for 2017, 2022 and 2023 showing Ricky Stenhouse Jr's redemption attemptsThe difference between last year and this year is striking.

In 2022, Stenhouse finished in the top 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this year. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 compared to 33.3% last year. Top-20 finishes aren’t the same as contending for a championship. But they’re a first step.

Stenhouse finished 2017 with nine top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned five top-10 finishes this year.

What’s changed? The Next Gen car is one factor, but it didn’t make much difference for Stenhouse last year. I would point instead to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted both of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Although Kelley worked with Stenhouse and previous crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, this is the first year Kelley is back up on the pit box.

Together, they’re basically halfway to matching Stenhouse’s best year.

And another step closer to redemption.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points


Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).