Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: Say What You’d Like, NASCAR Racing Is as Good as Ever

NASCAR just wrapped up the 2010 racing season which saw drops in attendance and ratings for Cup Series races nearly across the entire schedule. There are ideas and excuses flying around like flies at a pre-race tailgate party, but one thing can be confirmed by pure statistics, the racing is as good as it has ever been. The Chase certainly has its detractors and the new-style car hasn’t drawn in fans by the busload, but the resulting racing on the track is verifiably outstanding.

NASCAR instituted loop data in 2005 which allows the series to track activity around the entire racetrack instead of just at the start/finish line, so some of the data is only relevant for the last six years. However, other statistics have remained the same through the entire history of the Cup Series and this past year is still the most competitive ever.

Two of the measures that are consistently touted when it comes to discussing the competitiveness of racing are lead changes and number of unique leaders in a given event. 2010 saw records established in both of those categories and one of the two records surpassed was nearly 30 years old. The average number of lead changes per race in 2010 was 25.4, which surpassed the previous record of 24.9 which had stood since 2006.

The average number of leaders per race this season was 11.4, which topped the previous high-water mark established in 1981. Both of those records played a role in setting a third record for the season which was 55 different drivers took at least one lap at the head of the field during the 2010 Cup season, four more than the previous record of 51 which had occurred in 2005 and 2007. All three of those records were calculated at the start/finish line, so they are all-time bests in the 62-year history of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

When you delve further into the loop data the numbers become even more impressive. 2010 saw 1,299 green flag passes for the lead on the track, which represents changes around the entire racing surface and not just at the start/finish line. This year’s number didn’t just beat the old record from 2006, it blew it out of the water. The former record was 994, which is 305 fewer than this season’s total. That is a 31% increase in on-track passes for the lead under green-flag conditions.

Total green-flag passes were also up for the 2010 season, with 116,327 passes on track under racing conditions, which surpassed the 2009 previous record of 110,226.

Say what you want to about the Cup Series and what you might think is causing the drop in interest, there is one thing that cannot be questioned and that is the actual racing on the track, when the cars are at full speed, is the most competitive the series has ever seen.

Whether it is the best racing is arguable, although most of the memories that people have of the “old days” are a little clouded by nostalgia, but black and white numbers don’t lie.

And from the data that was compiled over the entire 36-race 2010 season some things are evident – more people led races, more people made passes for the lead under green-flag conditions and more drivers passed more cars during races than any other season in the last six years. The racing is as good as ever.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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