Pure Thunder Racing recently posted Dave’s Deeper Dive: Blaney and Hamlin Tie to Win Racing Lead Championship. The first comment received off-line was “Where’s the breakdown on the tracks?”
I explained that this posting on the drivers was already too long, and the tracks would come in a later posting. Well, here it is.
Racing Lead Changes Overall Ranking-Which Tracks had the Most RLCs
The following chart ranks the 36 races in the order of the number of Racing Lead Changes that occurred in each, ranked highest to lowest. Remember that a Racing Lead Change is a pass for the lead that-
a) happens under green flag conditions,
b) is not the result of the leader pitting and turning over the lead and
c) is not done under the benefit of a bunched field as a result of a start or restart.
It’s Car A passing Car B on track, under green to take the lead and keeping it back to the Start/Finish Line to be credited with an official Lead Change.
Though not an official NASCAR metric, it is easily derived from information provided by NASCAR.
The Laps shown in the chart are the total of green flag laps for the race, not including the first lap after the Start or Restart on the Road Courses or Dirt Track or the first three laps after a Start or Restart on the other tracks. These laps were not counted because passes on those laps are directly impacted by the bunching of the field and are not a true measure of the Racing Lead Change. These laps are referred to as Racing Laps.
It’s no surprise that the “drafting” tracks produced the most RLCs with Talladega, Daytona and Atlanta making up 6 of the top 7 RLC Tracks. Kansas, an Intermediate Track, snuck in,making it the only other track to score double digit RLCs.
Overall, the season average RCLs per race was 6.47. Seven of the 36 races had more RCLs than average. The median or midpoint of the RCL distribution was Nashville, with 4 RCLs. And the most common number or RCLs (or Mode) was 2 RCLs, with 8 races.
Does the number of laps affect the RLCs?
It can. The more laps, the more opportunity for RLCs. To normalize those, and make the track results comparable, we reranked the tracks based on the average number of laps between RLCs.
Based on this calculation, we see that on average for the season, fans saw a Racing Lead Change every 31 Green Flag Racing Laps. Nine races had RLCs more frequently than the average. Overall, the RLC Rate ranged from 3 Laps at Talladega 2 to 235 laps at Loudon. Pocono and the Indy GP had no RLCs, so if went to those races to see a battle up front, unless it happened on Restarts or Leader Pitting from the Lead you may have not gotten all the Excitement and Drama you wanted.
The Six “Drafting Tracks” top these Charts. What does it look like for “Non-“Tracks?
Removing the six “Drafting Tracks” from the dropped the RLCs from 233 to 96 over nearly 990 fewer laps. We saw the range or distribution drop from 50 to 0 overall to 12-0 in the “Non’s”. The average RLCs per race dropped from 6.47 RLCs per race to 3.20. 14 races had more RLCs than average with only one race, Kansas-1 having double digit RLCs. The median race was the Charlotte ROVAL at 2 RLCs and just below the average. The most common number or mode of RLCs per race was 2, that included 8 races. This made up 26.7% of this 30-race sample.
Statistically, this is a more normal distribution and further indicates just how much the “Drafting Tracks” skew the results.
NASCAR doesn’t have a “Drafting Track” Classification, only SuperSpeedway, Intermediate, Short, Road Course and Dirt. Applying those classifications, how do the RLCs and Rates shake out?
Moving Atlanta back into the Intermediate and putting Pocono in the SuperSpeedway category gave you the following ranking of RLC Rates by Track Classification-
Note the variations in the rates with Short Tracks on the low end, averaging 1 Racing Lead Change per 88 Racing Laps. This follows suit with what the fans, drivers and industry are saying – the Short Track package needs improvement.
The following is a breakdown for each Track Classification
This gives you an idea where your favorite track stacks up according to the other tracks in their classification. Remember, the higher the Rate number the more Green Flag Laps (on average) you will have to watch before you see another Racing pass for the Lead.
What about the Passing Throughout the Field? Not all Passing takes Place up front.
Whenever Racing Lead Changes are discussed, the first objection to using this is “there may not be passing at the front but there is passing throughout the field.” That might be true, so let’s look at those numbers to just how much action is going on.
NASCAR tracks two stats – Green Flag Passes and Quality Passes. Green Flag Passes are a count of every position change for any position measured at any scoring loop around the track, including the Start/Finish Line. If the race is green and I pass you for position going into Turn 1 and I’m ahead at the Scoring Loop there, that’s 1 Green Flap Pass. If you pass me back exiting Turn 2 and get the position back before we hit that scoring loop, that’s another Green Flag Pass. It’s green flag passes for position at any scoring loop around the track.
Up until very recently, NASCAR has used this stat as it’s primary metric to show how competitive the races are. The presentation is the higher the GFP number, the more passes and the competitive (and better) the racing.
NASCAR has a second stat-Quality Passes. These are Green Flag Passes that take place for Positions 1-15. In other words, passes up front. The higher the QP, the more passing is going on up front.
In comparing the Quality Passes to the Green Flag Passes, the stats show that in 7 of the 36 races the Quality Passes (P1-P15) made up a higher percentage or more than their share of the Green Flag Passes than “Non-Quality” Passes (P16-End of Field). In other words, with the exception of the Daytonas, Atlantas, Talladega 1, Dover and Charlotte, there was passing for position going on, but it was taking place more frequently at the back of the field than the front.
Adding to that, none of the races in the Playoffs, when everything was on the line could muster enough Quality Passes to move the passing up to the front. That is somewhat troublingbecause this is the time when every point matters and the only way you can get points is to pass.
Finally, passing is no doubt exciting and compelling, especially for the 50K to 101K+ fans in attendance each week who can see it no matter how far back in the field it takes place. But that excitement is lost to the 2.86 million viewers on average who tune in each week and never have any idea because it is rarely shown. And even for those in attendance, unless things have changed dramatically, the grandstands rarely jump of for a pass for P18… or at least not like they would for P2 or even P1.
Observations on 2023 Racing Lead Changes
• In comparing the Short Tracks, where NASCAR is focusing their attention for next season with the Intermediates which most say NEXT GEN is well suited to and produces great racing, the best Short Track (Richmond-1, 54 RLC RATE) is below average when compared to the Intermediates (50).
• On the flip side, the three worst Intermediates had worse numbers-Ft. Worth, 175, Darlington-1, 231, Loudon, 235 than the worst Short Track, Dover, 167. Hopefully, those will benefit from the changes that come out of the upcoming tests.
• For races with multiple dates, the second races had better numbers for all tracks except Daytona, Kansas and Richmond. Although there are multiple factors that can create these differences, hopefully, improved numbers from Race 1 to Race 2 at the other multi-date tracks point to things moving in a positive direction. The upcoming Phoenix Test along with the 2024 data will be interesting to see if this is a trend.
• Currently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is advertising on SIRIUS XM for Atlanta Motor Speedway. He uses the tag line “If anybody asks me where to go for their first race, I’m sending them here.” Since the reconfiguration and repave, Atlanta has had some races. One concern I have is the slide in 2023 RLCs. The two races of 2022 produced an impressive 39 RLCs (24 and 15) while 2023 produced only 17 RLCs total (8 and 9). Hopefully, the 56% drop in RLCs is an anomaly and is not an indication of things to come for action up front. Surewould be disappointing to take Jr.’s advice and go there and not see anyone Racing up front.
• As you review these numbers, remember Racing Lead Changes are just one of several ways Lead Changes take place. I have focused on Racing Lead Changes because as a fan, when I went to races that’s what I went to see. One car passing another car for the lead and trying to hang on is why I went and based on the crowd reaction when it occurred was why many others bought tickets as well. But if you like seeing Lead Changes on Restarts, Charlotte (10), Las Vegas (7) or Homestead (7) may be more to your liking. If you like strategy and having the leader board change because of pit stops sequences, Nashville (12), Richmond (9) or Darlington (8) may suit you. With 36 races and this much track diversity, you can probably find one to suit your race viewer style.
• As many ways as we have analyzed and presented these numbers this is just the tip of the iceberg. We won’t go any farther unless there is additional inquiries. It will be interesting to see how off-season changes will be reflected in next seasons numbers.
This Racing Lead Change Analysis by Track Type provides numbers to back up season observations. As stated in the last post, hopefully, the off-season work on the car, tires and other components will result in more action up front and produce an even more favorable RLC numbers and more eventful 2024 season.
We can only hope.
Thunder On… and Stay Safe!
Photo credit (cover): Sean Gardner / Getty Images