Golden Age Of Competition Is Now

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    DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Present-day NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races offer closer competition than anytime in history, a new NASCAR statistical analysis has shown.

    Taking into account such statistics as cars on the lead lap, average leaders per race and margin of victory, racing since 1970 has become more competitive and more unpredictable than ever.

    Consider this: In 1970, 22 of the 48 races "featured" only ONE car on the lead lap at the end of the race. Not since 1994 has a race ended with one car on the lead lap (Geoffrey Bodine at North Wilkesboro).

    In the early 1970s, it was common for a race-winner to have a margin of victory of multiple laps. In 1973 at Darlington, for example, David Pearson finished 13 laps ahead of second-place finisher Benny Parsons. Also, in April 1977 at Bristol, Cale Yarborough finished seven laps ahead of runner-up Dick Brooks – and led all but four laps in that race.

    Since then, margins of victory have steadily decreased. Unimpeded runs to the checkered flag are a fading memory.

    The chart below illustrates the competitive progression of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

    One Car on Lead Lap at Finish (since 1970)
    1970 22 Times   1980 2 Times
    1971 21 Times   1981 3 Times
    1972 12 Times   1982 5 Times
    1973 15 Times   1983 1 Time
    1974 6 Times   1984 1 Time
    1975 10 Times   1985 1 Time
    1976 9 Times   1986 2 Times
    1977 3 Times   1987 1 Time
    1978 6 Times   1991 1 Time
    1979 6 Times   1994 1 Time


    Since 1970, the race winner was the only car on the lead lap 128 times. From the years 1970 to 1979, it happened 110 times. In the 1980s, 16 times. In the 1990s, only twice; and since 1995, it has not happened at all.

    Close Finishes

    In May of 1993, NASCAR revolutionized the way it kept score, going from handheld stopwatches or analog timing clocks to integrated electronic scoring. On May 16, 1993 at Sonoma, Geoffrey Bodine defeated Ernie Irvan by 0.53 second in the first race using electronic scoring. A more precise way of measuring victory margins was established. Prior to electronic scoring, margins of victory were scored in either laps, car lengths or feet. Now the standard is measured in fractions of a second.

    Comparing the close racing between now and 30 years ago is one thing, but a comparison between today's racing and racing just 10 years ago shows how the competition has improved in such a short period of time.

    Of the closest finishes since 1993, seven of the top 10 have occurred since 2000. Here is the list:

    Closest Finishes
    Rank
    Date
    Track
    MOV
    Winner Runner-Up
    1.
    3/16/03
    Darlington
    .002
    Ricky Craven Kurt Busch
    2.
    7/7/07
    Daytona
    .005
    Jamie McMurray Kyle Busch
    3.
    7/25/93
    Talladega
    .005
    Dale Earnhardt Ernie Irvan
    4.
    3/11/01
    Atlanta
    .006
    Kevin Harvick Jeff Gordon
    5.
    7/2/94
    Daytona
    .008
    Jimmy Spencer Ernie Irvan
    6.
    3/12/00
    Atlanta
    .010
    Dale Earnhardt Bobby Labonte
    7.
    2/22/04
    Rockingham
    .010
    Matt Kenseth Kasey Kahne
    8.
    11/20/05
    Homestead
    .017
    Greg Biffle Mark Martin
    9.
    2/18/07
    Daytona
    .020
    Kevin Harvick Mark Martin
    10.
    7/24/94
    Talladega
    .025
    Jimmy Spencer Bill Elliott


    This season, the margin of victory has been under a second in 10 of the 19 races. In six of those races, the race was run using the Car of Tomorrow.

    Lead Lap Finishes

    The percentage of cars on the lead lap has grown – and in some cases doubled. In the 48 races held in 1970, only 5.5 percent of the cars that started the race finished on the lead lap. That number, too, has steadily grown. Below is a three-decade sampling:

    Percentage of
    Cars on Lead Lap
    1976 — 6.3%
    1986 — 15.6%
    1996 — 30.7%
    2006 — 43.6%


    Furthermore, if you take the best and worse year per decade in terms of lead lap finishing percentage, the results continue to be lopsided.

    1970 - 1979
    1980 - 1989
    1990 - 1999
    2000 - 2006
    Best: 1977 - 8.5% Best: 1989 - 21.3% Best: 1997 - 32.0% Best: 2005 - 43.9%
    Worst: 1973 - 4.1% Worst: 1980 - 9.5% Worst: 1991 - 21.2% Worst: 2000 - 34.1%


    More Race Winners

    More cars running on the lead lap lends itself to more competition for the win which in turn lends itself to better parity. What really stands out is the year-by-year growth in terms of leaders per race, and winners per season.

    In 1970, 18 races were won by one driver. In 1971, one driver won 21 races. Since 2000, no driver has won more than eight races in a season. Through 19 races this year, 13 different drivers have visited Victory Lane. In 1970, there were 12 different race-winners the entire season – and that year featured 48 races on the schedule. Below is a year-by-year look at total race winners:

    Race Winners Per Year
    1970 - 12 in 48 races 1989 - 11 in 29 races
    1971 - 12 in 48 races 1990 - 14 in 29 races
    1972 - 8 in 31 races 1991 - 14 in 29 races
    1973 - 8 in 28 races 1992 - 12 in 29 races
    1974 - 5 in 30 races 1993 - 10 in 30 races
    1975 - 8 in 30 races 1994 - 12 in 31 races
    1976 - 8 in 30 races 1995 - 11 in 31 races
    1977 - 7 in 30 races 1996 - 11 in 31 races
    1978 - 7 in 30 races 1997 - 11 in 32 races
    1979 - 9 in 31 races 1998 - 11 in 33 races
    1980 - 10 in 31 races 1999 - 11 in 34 races
    1981 - 9 in 31 races 2000 - 14 in 34 races
    1982 - 8 in 30 races 2001 - 19 in 36 races
    1983 - 12 in 30 races 2002 - 18 in 36 races
    1984 - 12 in 30 races 2003 - 17 in 36 races
    1985 - 9 in 28 races 2004 - 13 in 36 races
    1986 - 13 in 29 races 2005 - 15 in 36 races
    1987 - 10 in 29 races 2006 - 13 in 36 races
    1988 - 14 in 29 races 2007 - 13 in 19 races


    As illustrated in the preceding chart, 2001 – with 19 different race winners – was NASCAR's most prolific year in terms of parity since 1970. The year 1974 saw only five different winners, the lowest total in the period. Per decade, the average breakdown is as such: 8.4 different race winners in the 1970s (beginning with 1970), 10.8 in the 1980s, 11.7 in the 1990s and 15.3 since 2000 – which would presumably grow with 17 races remaining in 2007.

    More Race Leaders

    The races themselves continue to grow in competitiveness. The number of leaders per race has seen steady growth since 1970. In 1970 a race averaged four different leaders. That number has been at least 10 for the past three full seasons and currently the average for the 2007 season is 11.

    Average Leaders Per Race by Decade
    1970 - 1979: 5.4
    1980 - 1989: 8.1
    1990 - 1999: 8.3
    2000 - 2007: 9.8


    In each of the past six races, there have been at least eight different leaders:

  • Pocono, eight leaders
  • Michigan, 11 leaders
  • Infineon, eight leaders
  • New Hampshire, 11 leaders
  • Daytona, 11 leaders
  • Chicago, nine leaders


Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2007

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