Stop Saying the Racing Now is Like the Old Days

Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

If I hear one more argument that the racing now is like it was in the old days and that fans of old school racing should love fewer cars on the lead lap and domination, my head may just explode.

For some reason, there are fans that are going to defend this type of racing we are seeing in 2018 no matter what. Those same people will throw out the lines of, “well, in the old days there were only a couple of cars on the lead lap” or “you people should love domination because that’s the way it used to be.” Stop! If you want to get into this debate I’m ready to take you on and hit you with some statistics of my own.

It was pointed out on Twitter that the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 had a lot of similarities to the races of yesteryear and that the old school fans should be bursting with excitement after seeing a race like that. Well, I like to think I am a huge fan of ’70s-mid ’90s NASCAR and the only thing I was bursting with after this year’s 600 was nausea. So if you want to get into this debate and try to flesh things out on just how similar the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 was to old school racing let’s have at it. I will compare this year’s 600 to the 600’s starting in 1968. That should be a great sample size.

Year Cars Started Lead Lap Cars Lead Changes # of DNF’s Margin of Victory Most Laps Led Notes % of Cars DNF
1968 44 2 16 10 Caution 98 Only 255 laps ran 22.73%
1969 44 1 13 26 2 laps 274 59.09%
1970 40 1 28 23 2 laps 141 57.50%
1971 40 2 13 16 33.9 303 40.00%
1972 40 2 22 23 23.7 239 57.50%
1973 40 2 23 21 1.800 220 52.50%
1974 40 2 22 23 23.700 239 57.50%
1975 40 1 17 12 1 lap 234 30.00%
1976 40 2 37 17 Caution 230 42.50%
1977 40 2 25 13 30.800 311 32.50%
1978 40 6 43 12 2.000 144 30.00%
1979 41 3 54 22 5.600 175 53.66%
1980 42 2 47 21 0.500 157 50.00%
1981 42 2 32 21 8.200 140 50.00%
1982 42 2 47 20 0.200 122 47.62%
1983 41 3 23 13 0.800 188 31.71%
1984 42 2 22 15 17.000 156 35.71%
1985 42 3 29 20 14.640 97 47.62%
1986 41 6 38 10 1.590 98 24.39%
1987 42 1 23 25 1 lap 186 59.52%
1988 41 6 43 18 0.240 106 43.90%
1989 42 3 22 17 0.990 138 40.48%
1990 42 11 15 17 0.170 306 40.48%
1991 41 6 22 19 1.280 263 46.34%
1992 42 7 28 20 0.410 141 47.62%
1993 41 8 29 12 3.730 152 29.27%
1994 43 6 24 13 3.910 187 30.23%
1995 42 3 32 14 6.280 169 33.33%
1996 43 4 20 10 11.980 199 23.26%
1997 42 17 27 7 0.468 83 Only 333 laps ran 16.67%
1998 43 9 33 5 0.410 164 11.63%
1999 43 7 23 10 0.574 198 23.26%
2000 43 11 25 6 0.573 175 13.95%
2001 43 17 28 7 3.190 125 16.28%
2002 43 11 21 8 0.468 263 18.60%
2003 43 8 16 7 Caution 82 Only 276 laps ran 16.28%
2004 43 13 16 6 Caution 334 13.95%
2005 43 20 37 13 0.027 98 30.23%
2006 43 17 37 6 2.114 158 13.95%
2007 43 12 29 10 9.561 107 23.26%
2008 43 17 37 5 10.203 76 11.63%
2009 43 26 14 1 Caution 173 Only 227 laps ran 2.33%
2010 43 24 33 7 0.737 252 16.28%
2011 43 19 38 13 0.703 103 30.23%
2012 43 9 31 10 4.295 204 23.26%
2013 43 13 24 12 1.490 161 27.91%
2014 43 13 34 6 1.272 164 13.95%
2015 43 16 22 4 4.785 131 9.30%
2016 40 9 9 2 2.572 392 5.00%
2017 40 17 23 9 0.835 233 22.50%
2018 40 9 9 5 3.823 377 12.50%

For those of you who like to throw out the, “it’s just like the old days” comparison you couldn’t be more wrong.

First off, these stats above don’t even factor in how many cars in these races in the ’70s-’90s had crash damage and went back out onto the tracks or had mechanical issues they fixed in the garage, so those cars did not show up as DNFs.

Also, we now have stage racing, double-file restarts, wave around’s and free passes in play. For the sake of comparing apples to apples I’m going to remove any of the above races that were shortened to further breakdown these statistics. That will eliminate 1968, 1997, 2003, and 2009.

We are comparing 46 races below:

For number of cars on the lead lap, there were four times with only a single car on the lead lap, the last coming in 1987. It’s not a coincidence that three of those four events had very high attrition rates. 1987 had 25 DNF’s so 59.52% of the field did not finish. Of the 46 races, 2018 was 15th in number of cars on the lead lap.

For number of lead changes, 1979 wins the prize with 54 lead changes. The 1980 and 1982 races had 47 each, and 1978 and 1988 both had 43. 2018 was tied with 2016 for fewest number of lead changes, with only 9 each. The 1971 race was the next closest with 13 lead changes, however 40 per cent of the field (16 cars) that did not finish. Yes, 2018 is exactly like these old school races that people like me should love. Just look at those striking similarities. Oh, wait.

For most laps led, we would call the lowest high number of laps led the winner in this category. That honor goes to 2008, where the most laps led of any car was 76. Three other occasions saw the highest number of laps led under 100: 1985, 1986, and 2005.

2018 was 45th out of 46, with Kyle Busch leading 377 of the 400 laps ran which was only behind Martin Truex, Jr. in 2016 when he led 392. In fact, there are only four other times where the most laps led were over 300: 2004 (334), 1977 (311), 1990 (306), and 1971 (303). Again, so much like the old days it just blurs the lines.

Now, for the statistic that I always try to beat into people’s brains when they throw out the old days only had a couple of cars on the lead lap garbage. That is the number of cars that did not finish the races. And again, this doesn’t factor in, at all, cars that suffered crash damage or mechanical issues that got back out and actually finished the races. That would be a tall task to dissect each event to get an even clearer picture, but this should suffice.

The highest number of DNFs was 1987 with 59.52 per cent of the field not running at the end. The next was 1969 with 59.09%. Tying for the third-highest attrition rates were 1970, 1972, and 1974 with 57.50% of the cars not finishing those events. And wouldn’t you know, three of the four times there was only a single car on the lead lap was all in the top-five for highest attrition rates. There were only four Coca-Cola 600 events with lower attrition rates than in 2018’s 12.50%: 2016 (5.00%), 2015 (9.30%), and 1998/2008 (11.63%).

I realize that this is a lot of numbers to digest. However, when you look at the correlations and the statistics, anyone who says that the 2018 Coca-Cola 600, and most of these races in 2018 that have been dominated by one car with very few lead changes is just like the old days, is completely and utterly 100% incorrect.

They are factually inaccurate and I’m tired of this rhetoric that the races in 2018 are so much like the old days that some of us are clamoring for because that’s just not the case.

Look at the chart below and see some correlations:

View post on imgur.com

As you can see from the chart the number of lead changes per race were very high from the late ’70s through late ’80s. It was up and down in the ’90s-2010 and then the numbers just fell off of a cliff.

With so few DNF’s in today’s day and age, factored in with the stage cautions, wave around’s, free passes and double file restarts, the racing in 2018 should be substantially better than it was in the ‘good old days’. But it’s not. To compare the racing in 2018 to those good old days is an insult to the races of yesteryear.

Simply, whether some folks want to admit it or not, the current racing product is broken.

I’ve posted several articles about slowing the cars down to make for better racing and trying to decrease aero dependency. The All-Star package is only a band aid but it’s something that’s very much needed at this critical point in NASCAR’s history.

I implore those that just want to randomly throw out that the races in 2018 are so much like these older races to actually go back and watch some of them on YouTube. There is nothing remotely similar between 2018 and the races of the past.

Attrition rates cannot be ignored and I’m tired of people making an argument without actually digging a little deeper behind their numbers.

If nothing else, I hope this shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the racing in 2018 is most certainly not anything similar to the good old days. But it could get closer with some rules changes that I hope NASCAR is seriously considering. This is a low point in the history of competitive racing in the MENCS.

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