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Stat Sheet: A Statistical Dive Into the Month of June

Seventeen races are in the books, nine races are left in the regular season and NBC is here for the rest of 2023.

With the month of June coming to a close, let’s take a look at the biggest statistical takeaways in the last three NASCAR Cup Series races, at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Sonoma Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway.

The closest points battle in recent memory?

Summertime is when a hot streak turns into a breakout season. It can also be when a stretch of bad races turns into a disappointing season.

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Summertime is when the haves and have-nots of the season become clear.

In the last two seasons, the discourse around the best team in the garage was pretty cut-and-dry: Kyle Larson had a handful of wins and led over 1,600 laps at this point of 2021, while Chase Elliott was up to a full-race lead in the regular season point standings for 2022.

This year? Choosing the best team and driver might as well be the equivalent of throwing at a dart board.

After the conclusion of the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, there were 10 drivers within one race of the points lead (60 points) and six drivers within a third.

  • 1. Ross Chastain 446
  • 2. Ryan Blaney (-1)
  • 3. William Byron (-4)
  • 4. Kevin Harvick (-8)
  • 5. Martin Truex Jr. (-13)
  • 6. Christopher Bell (-17)
  • 7. Tyler Reddick (-37)
  • 8. Denny Hamlin (-46)
  • 9. Brad Keselowski (-52)
  • 10. Kyle Busch (-54)

After the following race at Gateway, Ryan Blaney took the lead while William Byron, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all moved up a spot as Ross Chastain fell to fifth. Truex went from fourth to the lead after winning at Sonoma, which marked the first time since the fifth race of 2018 that Truex was the regular season points leader.

After another strong performance at Nashville, Truex increased his lead to 18 points over Byron and Chastain. Christopher Bell is up to fourth, 45 points behind, while Kyle Busch has soared to fifth, 48 points back. Everyone else on the list is more than 60 points behind Truex.

This battle is only raging for 15 playoff points come September. Full-season dominance may no longer be rewarded with a championship, but to have this many drivers neck-and-neck speaks to how much parity there has been among the frontrunners in the first half of the year.

Who’s Hot

When looking at the month of June, there were four drivers that made their name known out front:

  • Kyle Busch: 150 laps led (1 win)
  • Denny Hamlin: 114 laps led
  • Martin Truex Jr.: 101 laps led (1 win)
  • Ross Chastain: 100 laps led, (1 win)

Busch spent most of his time out front in one race, and it’s obvious that he has Gateway figured out. He sports an average finish of 1.5 in the two Cup races held at the track, and he’s combined to lead 187 laps in the two.

This year’s edition at Gateway saw Busch win his first Cup Series pole since November 2019, and he backed it up by leading just under half the race en route to victory. It marked Busch’s third victory of the year and his first since Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2019 that he’s led over 100 laps in a win (in this case, 121).

With finishes of fifth, first and second, no one has had a better month of June than Truex. He’s only one-year removed from missing the playoffs in a winless 2022 season that saw swirling rumors of retirement, all of which is a distant memory now.

In a seven-race stretch from his win at Dover Motor Speedway to the most recent race at Nashville, Truex has scored two wins, five top fives, 393 laps led and an average finish of 7.3; a pretty good run in the era of the Next Gen car.

Toyota has further established its speed, as Denny Hamlin was a factor to win all three races in June. He had a runner-up at Gateway and a third-place finish at Nashville in addition to winning the pole and leading 33 laps at Sonoma until he finished last after a crash.

Perhaps the biggest statement that Toyota has made, however, is its threat to Chevrolet’s road course dynasty.

After Truex won at Sonoma in 2019, the bowties went on the win 15 of the next 16 road courses races from August 2019 to July 2022. Bell’s win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL last October ended the drought, while Tyler Reddick and Truex backed it up with dominating wins at Circuit of the Americas and Sonoma, respectively.

Speaking of breaking a long drought …

A win that was well overdue

Chastain won his first Cup pole at Nashville and went on to win the race after leading the most laps. His third Cup win ended a 42-race drought that dated back to Talladega Superspeedway in April 2022.

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What’s more shocking than Chastain’s winless streak, however, is how much he was contending during his drought:

  • From taking the checkered flag at Talladega to taking the checkered flag at Nashville, Chastain had led 983 laps — 81% of the 1,214 laps he’s led at the Cup level.
  • He had led the most laps on four separate occasions in between his wins.
  • He had scored 14 top-five finishes in between his wins, a number that included four runner-up finishes.
  • He was the championship runner-up in 2022 and was scored as the points leader in seven of the first 13 races for 2023.

No matter the streak, the Cup win marked Chastain’s first on an unrestricted oval. And by starting and finishing first in the No. 1 car, he pulled off a feat that hadn’t been done in 46 years.

Ford’s 2023 woes continue

When looking at the drivers that led the most laps in June, one would be quick to notice that not a single Ford driver was listed. Blaney did lead 83 laps at Gateway, but aside from him, it’s been slim pickings for the Blue Ovals this year with two wins in 17 races.

The problem has run deeper than just victory lane: not a single Ford finished in the top 10 at Nashville, as Brad Keselowski led the way in 11th. Harvick was looking to be best of the Ford camp in Music City, but a flat tire while running fourth in the final stage doomed him to a 24th-place finish.

Harvick and Blaney have dropped to sixth and eighth in points, respectively, while defending Joey Logano (10th), the RFK Racing duo of Keselowski (11th) and Chris Buescher (12th) and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell (20th) are the only Ford drivers inside the top 20 in points.

Three of the four Stewart-Haas Racing cars are below that mark, while second-year Team Penske driver Austin Cindric is currently sitting with an average finish of 22.2.

But Ford’s woes have perhaps struck no one worse than Chase Briscoe. After leading 109 laps and finishing fifth at Martinsville Speedway in April, Briscoe has recorded eight straight races with an average running position of 20th or worse.

He hasn’t finished better than 17th in the seven races since Talladega, and at Nashville — his first Cup race reunited with former Xfinity Series crew chief Richard Boswell — he had an average running position of 30th. It is not an exaggeration to say that he was going to battle with the two Rick Ware Racing cars all night.

Ford scored nine wins and the driver’s championship in 2022. A year later, the manufacturer has struggled to find the speed in replicating that performance.

A recent stretch of clean racing

Larson was the epitome of checkers-or-wreckers to start the season. He didn’t have race-winning speed in June, but he was able to record three top-10 finishes in a row — his first such streak in the entire season. Heading into Gateway, Larson had two wins, five top fives and six finishes of 29th or worse in the first 14 races.

He’d rather go back to winning and crashing though.

From the Cup Series overall, Sonoma and Nashville featured surprisingly calm races after a Gateway marathon that featured four brake rotor failures.

With no stages at Sonoma, the race began on a 50-lap green flag run until the first caution waived. It was the second-longest opening run in the track’s 34-year history on the Cup schedule, beat only by the 82-lap green flag run to begin the 2012 edition.

Nashville had just four cautions after recording double-digit cautions in 2021 and 2022. The final stage went green with a 108-lap run to the checkered flag — the longest green-flag run to close out a race this season and the longest by number of laps since a 144-lap run at Richmond Raceway last August.

By mileage, the final 144 miles of the race went green at Nashville. The most recent race to have a final green-flag run longer than 144 miles was a 63-lap, 167.8-mile green flag run to close out a race at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2022.

The last two races have also had just one car that failed to finish: Hamlin at Sonoma and Blaney at Nashville. The most recent Cup race where every race car was running at the finish was the 2018 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In the almost five years since that race, there have been 21 races that saw only one car DNF. There have been five such races in 2023 alone (Phoenix Raceway, Richmond, Martinsville Speedway, Sonoma and Nashville).

Will the Cup Series see another race where every car finishes? Recent history says that it’s bound to happen sooner rather than later.

The next month in advance

With June in the books, the month of July will feature five Cup Series races:

  • July 2 – Chicago Street Course
  • July 9 – Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • July 16 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
  • July 23 – Pocono Raceway
  • July 30 – Richmond Raceway

It’s another exciting month of racing ahead, and all eyes turn toward Chicago for one of the most anticipated — and intriguing — races of the year.

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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