Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: A Modern Era Record Falls at Watkins Glen

Sunday’s (Aug. 20) NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International featured just one caution for Chase Elliott running out of fuel on lap 56.

It was the first Cup race with one caution since … last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

From 2003 to 2022 – a span of 20 seasons – the only race with one caution was a rain-shortened race at Auto Club Speedway in 2012; the Cup Series has already surpassed that total in a span of eight days.

A Feat That Hasn’t Been Seen in 45 Years

In terms of statistical anomalies, the last time that there were back-to-back races with one or no cautions was in June 1978, when events at Riverside International Raceway and Michigan International Speedway had one apiece.

To have back-to-back one-caution races in 2023, when only road courses can mathematically have less than two, is absurd. And if it wasn’t for the No. 9 team’s mistake on fuel mileage, Sunday (Aug. 20) may very well have been the first caution-free race since 2002.

The Cleanest Stretch of the Next Gen Car?

While the race at MIS two weeks ago was an attrition battle with nine cautions, the prior race at Richmond Raceway had three cautions, and just one for cause: a spin by Daniel Suarez on lap 391 of 400.

Therefore, three of the last four races – Richmond, Indy and The Glen – have combined to have a grand total of one DNF: Michael McDowell at The Glen, who bowed out after 74 of the 90 laps with electrical issues.

See also
Michael McDowell Smiles Despite Rollercoaster Day at Watkins Glen

In a Next Gen car that has predominately seen higher attrition rates as teams continue to figure it out, the month represents arguably the cleanest and tamest stretch of the car since its introduction.

Even with one caution, the race broke plenty of records. The 56-lap green flag run to start the race was the longest at Watkins Glen in the modern era, just barely eclipsing the 55-lap run to start the 1995 running. The one caution was also a modern-era record at The Glen, as the previous low was three cautions in 1992, 1995 and 2017.

But perhaps the most jaw-dropping statistics to come out of The Glen were the time of the race and the average running speed.

A Modern Era and a Watkins Glen First

As one could expect, race winner William Byron set a new race record at the track in terms of average speed. But Byron didn’t just break the old record: he shattered it.

In the 36 Watkins Glen races between 1986 and 2022, the race’s average speed eclipsed 100 mph on three occasions: 1995 (103.030), 2017 (104.132) and 2021 (101.031). The 2023 edition blew all of those out of the water by becoming the first race to average over 110, as Byron completed the 90 laps at a speed of 111.426 mph.

Now, what do you think the run time of the race was? Last week’s run time at Indy was 2 hours, 9 minutes and 59 seconds to complete 200 (or to be exact, 199.998) miles. The 2017 Watkins Glen race – the prior record for average speed – was finished in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 3 seconds.

Sunday’s race was completed in under two hours – the first race in the entire modern era to do so.

The length of the race and the quality of the racing will certainly draw differing opinions based on who you ask, but that’s a story for a different time.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at Watkins Glen: The Shortest Race of The Modern Era Went on for Too Long

Looking Ahead

Whether fans enjoyed or had gripes with the road courses the past two weekends, the Cup Series now heads to the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway in a race that will be the polar opposite of what was seen on Sunday.

The 13 races at Daytona since 2017 have averaged 8.5 cautions, and of the 12 races that reached the scheduled distance, nine of them went into overtime.

And in a regular season finale where it’s essentially Bubba Wallace versus the rest of the field for the 16th and final playoff spot, Daytona has been a hot spot for new winners – and winners that only won Daytona that season.

DateWinnerWas Daytona the only win of the season?
February 2017Kurt BuschYes
July 2017Ricky Stenhouse Jr.No (also won Talladega)
February 2018Austin DillonYes
July 2018Erik JonesYes
February 2019Denny HamlinNo (won 6 races)
July 2019Justin HaleyYes
February 2020Denny HamlinNo (won 7 races)
August 2020William ByronYes
February 2021Michael McDowellYes
August 2021Ryan BlaneyNo (won 3 races)
February 2022Austin CindricYes
August 2022Austin DillonYes
February 2023Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Yes (so far)

Will that trend continue on Saturday (Aug. 26) night? Only one way to find out.

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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6 Comments
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WJW Motorsports

If more cautions are desired, simply force the drivers to stay on the actual track and bring the gravel traps back.

Warren

If you watched the race on Saturday , the biggest difference still is the car . The talent level granted is much higher on Sunday but the car is major difference. Road courses are now resembling an F1 race , all hype and no passing. Maybe its time to give some creativity back to the teams. The “canned car” has lost its appeal

DoninAjax

While they are at it they can change Phoenix into a 3/4 mile track that the drivers treat it as.

Marc

They could probably get away with making the transition from the apron enough of a threat to the splitter and the diffuser that drivers think twice about the shortcut, but they won’t do either. But, yeah, something needs to be done about drivers going so far off the “track.”

Christopher

Another oddity from the Watkins Glen race was that NBC/USA had scheduled the broadcast to end at 5:30PM. The race ended a few minutes earlier than that, but how did NBC know that the race would be two hours long?

DoninAjax

The TSN broadcast was scheduled to end at 6.

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