_Author's Note: An unexpected scheduling conflict caused our crew chief to be unavailable this week, so we're going to take a look at the loop data statistics from last year's Phoenix race vs. this year's to see what the performance of the Gen-6 vs. COT looks like from a purely data-driven perspective._
NASCAR compiles a mountain of statistics each week that allow digit heads across the land, and in the garage area, to make unbiased comparisons on many different levels. Since Sunday's race was the first unrestricted event for the latest version of the Cup Series car, it just might be interesting to see what the numbers reveal.
The first numbers we'll look at are quality passes. A quality pass is one that occurs on a car running in the top 15 under green flag conditions. In last year's race, Jimmie Johnson finished fourth but had the most quality passes during the race with 63. Interestingly, in 2013, Brad Keselowski finished fourth and also had the most quality passes; however, the defending champion only notched 35 of them. In looking at the quality passes, the top 11 passers in 2012's Spring Phoenix race made more than the top passer in 2013. That's sign that to pass someone, last Sunday it was far more difficult than during the race a year before.
<div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15503.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"102\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Much has been said of the Gen-6 cars leading into the 2013 season, but are they really that much better than the COT was?</p></div>
Next up is the speed in traffic stat. It gives you the average speed of the driver when he has another car within one car length of them during green flag laps. This year's top runner at Phoenix was Matt Kenseth with a speed of 129.807 mph. Last year's best in traffic was Jimmie Johnson who clocked 130.260 mph. When it was all said and done, the speed of the top runners was nearly identical from one year to the next.
Third up is the statistic that backs up the argument that you always hear from the people who attend the race in person. They always maintain that there is so much more action back in the pack than what you see on TV. Green flag passes will most definitely let you know which race had the most excitement from front to back of the pack. In 2012, Jimmie Johnson once again led the category with no less than 90 passes during green flag competition. That was nearly 50% more than this year's king of the overtake, AJ Allmendinger, who put the move on 61 cars throughout the length of the race. The top 12 drivers in the 2012 green flag pass statistics made more green flag passes than the top passer in 2013.
Laps led is another category that indicates the competitive nature of a race. More drivers leading laps means more drivers were at the front. Certainly some laps led occur when drivers stay out during cautions, but in the long run, more drivers leading laps indicates more competitive races. 2013 saw nine drivers lead laps, with five of them leading double digit laps and Carl Edwards leading the most at 122 circuits. In comparison, 2012 saw 15 drivers lead the field across the line, but only five of them led double digit laps.
The mandate that came down from above as the manufacturers and NASCAR's R&D center started working on the latest edition of the Cup series car was to have more side-by-side racing and more passes for the lead. While there is a long way to go and many things to be learned about this new car, for now it is looking like the older car was a bit more competitive. However, the older car had been around for six years, and there had been a lot of tricks and techniques learned to make it better.
For now, the jury is still out on the new car. But, looking at the numbers that were accumulated last Sunday, the older car was faster, had more passing and more leaders. We'll see what it looks like when the series rolls back into Phoenix in November.
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