Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: When Did Richmond Become the Tamest Track?

If someone tuned in to a NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway for the first time in 15-20 years, they’d probably find the track unrecognizable.

Dubbed ‘The Action Track,’ Richmond was a fan favorite during NASCAR’s boom era in the late 1990s and 2000s.

But somewhere along the way, the track lost its luster among fans. Is it a lack of speed?

Perhaps with the Next Gen car. The pole speed for Sunday’s (July 30) race was 113.689 mph. Last year’s races weren’t much faster, with pole speeds of 119.782 mph in the spring and 117.177 mph in the summer.

Conversely, the September 2019 race, the last Gen 6 race with qualifying, had a pole speed of 127.185 mph. The pole speed broke the 130 mph-barrier in 2013, and prior to the Next Gen, you’d have to go back to 1990 to find the most recent pole speed under 120 mph. Speed is part of the thrill in auto racing, and if the cars look slow in comparison, some of the draw is lost.

There are other factors at play beyond speed, however. Richmond in the present day has become a track notable for long green-flag runs, limited restarts, minimal contact, limited carnage and an increased emphasis on tire and pit strategy.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Four Tires All Around at Richmond

That’s not to say that the current state of Richmond is bad. I, for one, found enjoyment in the strategy and the long green flag runs, and the track absolutely has a place on today’s schedule. But for many people that grew up watching Richmond during NASCAR’s peak, it’s not the Richmond of old; they want that one back.

Somewhere along the way, the trend of Richmond races flipped upside down. Using the last 20 years (2004-2023) and 39 Richmond races at the Cup level, I recorded five stats: the number of cautions, the final green flag run, the longest green flag run and the number of DNFs.

Why those five?

  • Cautions often feature crashes, and they will lead to restarts that can turn a race upside down.
  • The final green flag run measures whether the finish of the race and the winner were decided by a quick shootout or an endurance run.
  • The longest green flag run measures the longest length of time that the race played out naturally with zero restarts.
  • Lead lap cars measure how close the field was to the leaders. This stat is heavily influenced by the number of cautions and the length of the final green flag run.
  • The number of DNFs represents how many cars crashed out or had mechanical failures (chaos vs. tranquility). The numbers from 2009 to 2012 are skewed, however, as those seasons usually featured a handful of start-and-park cars that had no intention of finishing the race anyway. Those years are marked with asterisks.

Finally, I split the last 20 years into three groups: 2004 to 2009 (13 races), 2010 to 2016 (14 races) and 2017 to 2023 (12 races). Those time periods are arbitrary, but there were trends enough in the data that made sense for me to group them together.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at Richmond: Ford Has Figured Out How to Win the Championship

For now, here is the master list of these variables for the last 20 seasons of Richmond:

CautionsFinal Green Flag RunLongest Green Flag RunLead Lap CarsDNFs
2023 Race 233 laps153 laps190
2023 Race 1814 laps130 laps241
2022 Race 25144 laps153 laps112
2022 Race 15137 laps151 laps162
2021 Race 25146 laps148 laps91
2021 Race 1512 laps134 laps141
2020 Race 13157 laps157 laps111
2019 Race 2579 laps101 laps123
2019 Race 15148 laps148 laps162
2018 Race 2367 laps117 laps131
2018 Race 162 laps142 laps232
2017 Race 270 laps (Caution)135 laps194
2017 Race 1919 laps88 laps282
CautionsFinal Green Flag RunLongest Green Flag RunLead Lap CarsDNFs
2016 Race 2162 laps101 laps248
2016 Race 1836 laps157 laps260
2015 Race 2618 laps85 laps122
2015 Race 1826 laps100 laps193
2014 Race 2464 laps131 laps161
2014 Race 199 laps64 laps243
2013 Race 2113 laps136 laps203
2013 Race 1112 laps65 laps266
2012 Race 26118 laps118 laps117*
2012 Race 159 laps105 laps197*
2011 Race 21512 laps71 laps209*
2011 Race 1886 laps107 laps95*
2010 Race 23159 laps159 laps145*
2010 Race 165 laps191 laps186*
CautionsFinal Green Flag RunLongest Green Flag RunLead Lap CarsDNFs
2009 Race 21014 laps68 laps276*
2009 Race 11539 laps102 laps266*
2008 Race 21426 laps54 laps320
2008 Race 1112 laps89 laps168
2007 Race 21250 laps62 laps258
2007 Race 11420 laps127 laps216
2006 Race 2773 laps83 laps144
2006 Race 1117 laps82 laps146
2005 Race 21231 laps56 laps215
2005 Race 197 laps90 laps177
2004 Race 210101 laps101 laps125
2004 Race 1945 laps132 laps119

As for the three groupings, 2004 to 2009 appears to be the Richmond of old. 2010 to 2017 serves as a transition phase. 2017 to the present represents the ‘new’ Richmond.

YearsTotal RacesAvg. CautionsAvg. Final Green Flag RunAvg. Longest Green Flag RunAvg. Lead Lap Cars Avg. DNFs# of Races with >=100 lap run# of Races with >=100 lap finish
2017-2023135.371.3 laps135.2 laps16.51.712/135/12
2010-2016148.339.2 laps113.6 laps17.14.610/142/14
2004-2009129.134.6 laps73.0 laps19.75.84/121/12

Every single variable increased (or in the case of the lead laps cars, decreased) through the three sets of years in chronological order.

Perhaps the most notable statistic of 2017 to present that stands out is the number of cautions: the last 13 Richmond races, on average, had three fewer cautions than the 26 that came before it. Keep in mind, the races since 2017 have a minimum of two cautions, a minimum that was almost achieved last weekend. However, races prior to stages in 2017 were notable for debris cautions, and that inflate the numbers as well.

The average final flag run is a variable that also jumps out. An average of 71.3 laps to the finish is more than double the average of 2004 to 2009 and nearly double of 2010 to 2017. The proportion of > 100 lap green flag runs and final green flag runs have also increased dramatically since 2004 to 2009, and the longest green flag run average is well above the average from 2004 to 2009.

For consistency’s sake, the track has not been sealed or repaved since the early 2000s. Races with both the Gen 6 and the Next Gen car have featured fewer cautions, fewer DNFs and longer green flag runs,

In regard to the quality of racing, an increase in X variable or a decrease in Y variable doesn’t automatically make a race good or bad, and the changes in variables from 2004 to 2023 are not meant to draw a conclusion about which is better. But somewhere along the way, Richmond did a 180 in terms of what to expect in a typical race.

Why?

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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4 Comments
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SBan83

What was wrong with the racing on Sunday? Plenty of beating and banging, just no spins and wrecks (until the last lap mid-pack pile-up). I can tell you after suffering through the F1 race earlier in the day, it was so refreshing to watch so much side by side battling and bumping.

Last edited 8 months ago by SBan83
DoninAjax

Did you really not see all the passing that was actually shown in the F1 real “race”? Cars were sitting ducks going down the straights on every lap starting when Perez took the lead on the first lap just past Eau Rouge before DRS.

DoninAjax

I think it is appropriate that the stats start in 2004. The reason should be obvious.

Mike

I agree.the playoff format changed richmond into a race where the teams have more to lose.than to gain..unless you win of course.

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