The debut of the Next Gen car was a curveball for NASCAR, as both teams and drivers had to essentially start from square one in figuring what did and didn’t work with the new chassis.
Its debut season in 2022 was one of parity, as there were a record-tying 19 different winners.
Last year also had the most in-race parity for the lead in recent memory. Not a single driver led more than 1,000 laps in 2022, the first time in NASCAR’s modern era that no one crossed the millennium mark. Chase Elliott led the way with 857 laps led.
It was also a rare sight for a driver to dominate an entire race in 2022. Aside from Kyle Larson leading nearly 75% of the laps in a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, not one driver led more than 60% of the laps in a single race.
The first half of 2023 has been different, however, and it has shown signs of the parity out front returning to its prior Gen-6 levels.
Why? The answer most likely lies in teams acquiring familiarity with the Next Gen car in year two. Chevrolet and Toyota have been the big winners of the new car, as Ford has only won two of the 16 races. With one manufacturer seldomly showing up in victory lane, the wins and laps led are concentrated among a smaller number of teams.
Indeed, William Byron leads the way with 717 laps led this year. He’s only 140 away from passing Elliott’s mark of 857 last year, and there are still 20 races to go. In victory lane, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch of Richard Childress Racing have combined to win all but four of the 16 races so far.
And when it comes to in-race parity, drivers are dominating individual races at a higher clip in 2023 on average than they did in 2022.
Here is a list of the drivers that have led the most laps in the 16 races this year. Seven of the 16 went on the win the race, while 11 of the 16 led at least 40% of the race in question.
|Race||Track||Most Laps Led||% Led||Driver||Won Race?|
|2023-16||Sonoma||51/110||46.4||Martin Truex Jr.||Yes|
|2023-13||Darlington||145/295||49.2||Martin Truex Jr.||No (31st)|
|2023-12||Kansas||85/267||31.8||Kyle Larson||No (2nd)|
|2023-11||Dover||193/400||48.3||William Byron||No (4th)|
|2023-10||Talladega||47/196||24.0||Ryan Blaney||No (2nd)|
|2023-09||Martinsville||135/400||33.8||Ryan Preece||No (15th)|
|2023-08||Bristol Dirt||100/250||40.0||Christopher Bell||Yes|
|2023-07||Richmond||117/400||29.3||William Byron||No (24th)|
|2023-04||Phoenix||201/317||63.4||Kyle Larson||No (4th)|
|2023-03||Las Vegas||176/271||64.9||William Byron||Yes|
|2023-02||Auto Club||91/200||45.5||Ross Chastain||No (3rd)|
|2023-01||Daytona||42/212||19.8||Brad Keselowski||No (22nd)|
The highest percentage of laps led by one driver came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Byron led 64.9% of the race en route to the victory. The smallest percentage came at the Daytona 500, where Brad Keselowski led the way by leading 19.8% of the laps.
The “% Led” column is the one that I will analyze here to figure out just how much a smaller number of teams have dominated the 2023 Cup schedule. Three additional statistics will be used here: mean, median and standard deviation.
|Mean % Most Led||43.5%|
|Median % Most Led||46.0%|
The mean is the average of all values. In this case, the mean is a value of 43.5%. That means that in the 16 races of 2023, the driver that leads the most laps leads 43.5% of the race on average.
The median is the middle value. With 16 races, the middle value is between the eighth- and ninth-ranking races. The eighth-largest percentage of laps led came at Sonoma Raceway, where Martin Truex Jr. led 46.4% of the laps. The ninth-largest percentage was at Auto Club Speedway, where Ross Chastain led 45.5% of the race.
Averaging those values out nets a total of 46.0%. Therefore, half of the races in 2023 have seen one driver lead more than 46.0% of a race, while the other half have not.
The standard deviation measures the amount of variation.
The mean value is 43.5%. With a standard deviation of 13.1, that means all values between 30.4% and 54.6% are within one standard deviation of the mean.
Approximately 68.4% of the values are within one standard deviation of the mean. 68.4% of 16 races is 10.9, so there should be either five or six values that are either higher than 54.6% or lower than 30.4%.
In this case, there are six races with values outside that range: 19.8%, 24.0%, 29.3%, 54.7%, 63.3% and 64.9%.
For all the variables that would be two standard deviations within the mean, you would add and subtract 13.1% once again. In this case, all values between 17.3% and 67.7% are within two standard deviations of the mean.
About 95% of the values are within two standard deviations of the mean. 95% of 16 is 15.2, so there should either be one value or zero values out of the range. And, indeed, there are none out of range.
With a mean percentage of 43.5%, a median percentage of 46.0% and a standard deviation of 13.1, how do those values compare to 2022 and the final years of the Gen-6 era?
The mean, median and standard deviation values for 2023 are relatively similar to the ones in 2019, 2020 and 2021, although 2019 and 2021 have significantly higher standard deviations.
|Mean % Most Led||43.5%||38.2%||46.6%||42.0%||45.5%|
|Median % Most Led||46.0%||37.5%||47.3%||45.1%||39.3%|
|High % Led||64.9%||74.5%||88.0%||71.7%||92.8%|
|Low % Led||19.8%||19.0%||13.7%||21.3%||18.6%|
- In 36 races last year, the driver that led the most laps on average led 38.2% of the race.
- Half of the 36 races saw one driver lead more than 37.5% of the race, while the other half didn’t.
- A standard deviation of 12.8 — the second lowest of the five years — means that there were few races where a driver dominated from start to finish. Both 2021 and 2019 featured at least one race where one driver led more than 80% of the laps, so it is not a surprise that those seasons have the highest levels of variation.
- With a mean value that’s 8.4 points lower than 2021 and 5.3 than 2023, last year saw fewer races on average that were dominated by a single driver.
- A median value that’s 9.8 points lower than 2021 and 8.5 points lower than 2023 also shows last year saw fewer races on average that were dominated by a single driver.
When compared to 2021, 2022 had fewer races on average that were dominated by one driver. That trend has not held for 2023, and this year has seen values that more closely resemble levels from 2020 and 2021.
There’s still half of the 2023 season to go. But if the first 16 races have been any indication, the widespread parity in the first year of the Next Gen car looks to be fading away.
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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