Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: 2023, a Year of Late Cautions Turning Cup Races Upside Down

Different Race, Same Story

  • Three of the first four races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season have ended in overtime.
    • The Daytona 500, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and now Phoenix Raceway last Sunday (March 12).
  • 2023 joins 2006 as the only other two seasons to have three overtime finishes in the first four races.
  • Every driver that was leading at the scheduled distance ultimately went on to lose the race in overtime.
    • Kyle Busch at Daytona International Speedway, Kyle Larson at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
    • Kevin Harvick had the field covered at Phoenix until a caution with 10 to go, but it was Larson out front when the final caution came out with three to go.
  • It’s the second straight race where William Byron took the lead in overtime and went on to win. He won both races after restarting second.
    • Larson got the short end of the stick for the second week in a row after leading at the end of regulation. He lost the lead on pit road at Las Vegas and was passed by Byron on the final restart at Phoenix.
  • Harrison Burton’s spin with 10 laps to go at Phoenix ended a 108-lap green flag run. Aric Almirola’s crash with four laps to go at Las Vegas ended a 75-lap green flag run.
    • Harvick and Larson had their respective races won with near-insurmountable leads in the closing laps, but a late caution doomed both of their chances.
See also
Stock Car Scoop: William Byron Goes Back-to-Back on the West Coast

Phoenix by the Numbers

506: The number of laps that Hendrick Motorsports has led in the last two races.

  • 241 at Las Vegas, 265 at Phoenix.
  • That represents 86.1% of the 588 laps run in the last two weekends.

378: The number of laps that Harvick has led in the Cup Series since the start of the 2021 season.

  • That number is less than a quarter of what he led in 2020 (1,531).
  • He led 36 on Sunday. After being the only car to pass the dominant Hendrick duo of Larson and Byron, will 2023 see Harvick return to the top of the scoring pylon more often?

90%: The all-time winning percentage of Cup drivers leading 200-plus laps at Phoenix heading into last weekend.

  • Nine of the 10 went on to win the race. Busch, who finished third after leading 237 laps at Phoenix in November 2012, was the only loser.
  • The extra laps left Larson with 201 laps led on the day, making last weekend only the second time ever where a driver failed to win after crossing that mark.

30%: Larson’s winning percentage when leading 200-plus laps in a Cup race.

  • Larson won dominant performances at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway and Texas Motor Speedway in 2021 after starting his Cup career 0-for-6 in races where he led over 200.
  • It’s Larson’s first loss when leading over 200 since Dover Motor Speedway in May 2021, where he led 263.

3: The number of times that Larson was passed on track for the lead.

  • They were:
    • Byron passes Larson on lap 2.
    • Harvick passes Larson on lap 269.
    • Byron passes Larson on lap 316.
  • Larson never made a pass for the lead himself, and the three times he was passed represented the only on-track lead changes of the afternoon.

Byron joins Harvick as the only drivers to win back-to-back races in the Next Gen car.

The first 33 races of 2022 didn’t see a driver lead more than 59% of a single race.

  • The last seven races – the last three of 2022 and the first four of 2023 – have seen one driver lead at least 59% of a race four times.

Alex Bowman takes the outright points lead for the first time in his career after being the only driver to record four top 10s in the first four races.

Ryan Blaney finishes second for the second straight race at Phoenix.

  • He remains the active driver with the most laps led at Phoenix (429) without a win.

Xfinity Series Synopsis

Sammy Smith became the first first-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner of 2023 with a dominant performance at Phoenix on Saturday (March 11).

  • His win marked the 16th for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series at Phoenix, and he becomes the seventh different driver to win for JGR at that track.

Smith is now the fourth-youngest driver to win in Xfinity. He also becomes the youngest Xfinity winner at Phoenix.

DriverDate of BirthFirst WinAge
Joey LoganoMay 24, 1990June 14, 200818 years, 21 days
Chase ElliottNov. 28, 1995April 4, 201418 years, 127 days
Ty GibbsOct. 4, 2002Feb. 20, 202118 years, 139 days
Sammy SmithJune 4, 2004March 11, 202318 years, 280 days
Casey AtwoodAug. 25, 1980July 4, 199918 years, 313 days

Smith joins Michael Annett as the only drivers from Iowa to win an Xfinity race.

  • 21 Cup races have been won by an Iowan, with the most recent win back in 1971 by Tiny Lund.

Ryan Truex finished second to make Saturday a 1-2 finish for JGR.

  • It’s his third runner-up finish in 85 Xfinity starts.
  • Still seeking his first win, Truex will be back in the car next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he finished third in July.
See also
Xfinity Breakdown: Sammy Smith Gets 1st Career Win in United Rentals 200

Up Next: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Another Party for Chevrolet?

Chevrolet, and especially Hendrick, dominated the Cup races at Atlanta in 2022, as Byron won in the spring while Elliott won in the summer.

  • The bowties combined to lead 437 of the 585 circuits run at the track last season.
  • For a track heavily reliant on drafting, Chevy has Atlanta figured out.
    • And with how dominant the manufacturer has looked at the start of the 2023 season, it would be hard to bet against this Sunday (March 19) being the same story.

Three in a row for Byron? And who has the best chance of spoiling the party?

Byron led 111 laps en route to the win at Atlanta last March, and he led 41 laps in July before being collected in a mid-race crash.

  • With Hendrick dominating the start of the season and Elliott – the other dominant driver at Atlanta last year – out with a leg injury, Atlanta looks to be the perfect opportunity for Byron to grab his third consecutive Cup win.

However, there will be other contenders for the top spot for Sunday.

  • Chastain finished runner-up in both Atlanta races last season. He too looks sporty to start the year, as he led the most laps at Auto Club Speedway in February before finishing third.
  • Blaney has also been stout at the newly-reconfigured Atlanta, as he finished fifth and had an average running position of fifth at Atlanta in July. He also had an average running position of eighth last March and would’ve finished in the top 10 if not for a last-lap crash.
    • With Ford looking to end its dry spell to start the year, Blaney will be the driver to watch for them at Atlanta.
  • JGR also had moderate success last year, as its drivers combined to lead 72 of the 148 laps that were not led by Chevy.
    • Bell led the way in average running position between both races (ninth and 11th), while Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps with 34 and was a contender to win on the final restart in the summer.

Other Stats to Know

Both Atlanta races will be 400 miles for the first time this season.

  • And with Texas’ traditional 500-mile event in September trimmed down to 400, there are no more 500-mile races at 1.5-mile tracks left on the schedule.

The spring race ended with a 13-lap sprint to the finish while the summer ended with a three-lap shootout. The longest green flag runs were 44 laps and 42 laps in the spring and summer, respectively.

With the new configuration being absolutely nothing like the old layout, there is limited data to analyze in the days leading up to the race.

What is known is that both races last season had a fair share of cautions.

  • The spring race had 11 cautions in a 500-mile event while the summer race had 13 in a 400-miler.
  • The spring saw 12 cars retire from crash damage while the summer saw nine cars crash out.
  • There were a combined 10 green-flag runs that lasted fewer than 10 laps before another yellow flag flew.
  • Both races ended with a crash on the final lap.

Stay Tuned

The Ambetter 400 at Atlanta will take place on Sunday, March 19 at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Bryan Holl

The staged cautions get old real quick. Why waste time watching the first 95% of the race when it gets ‘Yahtzeed’ every week. Not entertaining at all.

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