Cautions increased in 2022 despite fewer stage-ending cautions and competition any year since stage racing began. The third phase of 2022 according to numbers focuses on causes (and causesers) of precautions.
I divide precautions into planned ones — such as competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ precautions. Natural precautions include accidents, spins, stalled vehicles, debris or fluids on the track and weather conditions.
My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total since 2014. That’s despite just 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing began.
The 2022 season has 43 more total conservations compared to 2021, and 57 more natural conservations than last year. That’s the most natural precaution since 2016.
Classification of precautions is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spinning and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident occurs during a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?
This year presented a more thorny problem.
The 2022 season has more tires and wheels coming off the cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classifies some incidents stemming from blown tires as debris precautions, others as accidents.
To me, a flat tire seems odd on a stray part of the car on the track.
The sheer number of wheel and tire problems prompted me to review all 302 precautions. I’ve added three additional caution categories: tire issues, fire and tire issues.
Tire issues are only marked if a flat tire is preceded by a fall or spin. Tires that blow out due to contact with a wall or flat spotting are excluded. If I can’t be sure the flat tire came first, I leave the caution in its original category.
My recategorization makes it difficult to compare precautions by category over the years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.
The table below compares my breakdown of NASCAR cautions for the 2022 season. I admit that I am not totally objective either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the general nature of the 2022 season.
The most surprising statistic is the sheer number of spins. Cup Series drivers rotated between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 rotated 60 times.
There haven’t been that many rounds since 2007, when the series went 66 rounds. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Car fans want harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they got what they wanted.
Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls
I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as one category because of questions about the difference between them. ‘Incident’ includes all spins, all accidents and all stalls.
And remember: being involved in an incident does not indicate that driver cause the incident.
The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.
Also note that this number does not include wheel or tire issues. A driver who crashes because a tire blows out is fundamentally different from an accident or rollover.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led the way in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.
Kyle Busch finished third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four laps.
No full-time driver has completely avoided incidents. Justin Haley is involved in the fewest: four. William Byron recorded six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell each had a hit.
Precautions by race
The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 preserves also helped it extend in terms of time.
But longer races offer more chances to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed the stage and competition cautions because the planned cautions do not depend on the length of the race.
The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions are the third-highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’ 16 cautions. But the dirt race is the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.
That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race also topped the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.
The Bristol asphalt race has the second most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4 The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).
What about superspeedways?
The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph was the second race at Atlanta. The fall Talladega race has the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.
But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Few cars are involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is greater than the number of car races.
Talladega’s fall race ranks second in terms of destruction per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race is related to the Bristol asphalt race. Both averaged 7.0 vehicles per accident.
Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma has 0.72 natural preserves per 100 miles and Charlotte Roval 0.78.
We usually use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident warrants caution — especially on the roadways. There were seven cautions for tires coming off the cars, some tires came off on pit road. Some drivers threw their cars back into the pits after losing tires.
And many more spins that didn’t cause caution.
Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.