This year, the Daytona 500 was the Daytona 530. Last year, it was the Daytona 502.5. In the 18 Daytona 500s (excluding 2009, which was rain shortened) since the implantation of overtime in the middle of 2004, only six of them have ended at the magical mark of 200 laps and 500 miles.
Overtime is both praised and criticized depending on who you ask. But when it comes to NASCAR’s marquee races, there’s something special about them ending at that golden number; especially when it doesn’t always happen.
For the Bristol Night Race, however, ending at lap 500 isn’t the exception; it’s the rule.
That’s right. There are now 20 seasons worth of Bristol Night Races since overtime was implemented, and against all odds, all 20 of them have ended at lap 500.
It almost seems too good to be true. It’s Saturday night short track racing under the lights. Tempers are high, tensions boil over and there’s only so much space for the drivers to navigate the 0.533-mile speed bowl. Yet not even one of them went a lap over?
The streak is even more impressive when considering the fact that the spring race went into overtime on a handful of occasions. The 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2015 spring races went to overtime, while the 2014 race also eclipsed lap 500, albeit with extraneous circumstances (in that one, the caution lights errantly turned on with three laps to go, and the race ended under caution at lap 503 as heavy rain moved in).
Five for race one, zero for race two. Even an average of 9.1 cautions in the last 20 Night Races haven’t led to one at the very end of the race.
|Year||Final Green Flag Run||Margin of Victory (s)||Cautions||Winner|
|2023||131 laps||2.437||6||Denny Hamlin|
|2022||57 laps||0.458||11||Chris Buescher|
|2021||93 laps||0.227||8||Kyle Larson|
|2020||82 laps||0.310||5||Kevin Harvick|
|2019||113 laps||0.502||8||Denny Hamlin|
|2018||13 laps||0.367||9||Kurt Busch|
|2017||79 laps||1.422||8||Kyle Busch|
|2016||51 laps||1.933||9||Kevin Harvick|
|2015||63 laps||0.220||8||Joey Logano|
|2014||63 laps||0.390||9||Joey Logano|
|2013||47 laps||0.188||11||Matt Kenseth|
|2012||57 laps||1.103||13||Denny Hamlin|
|2011||80 laps||0.951||6||Brad Keselowski|
|2010||86 laps||0.677||7||Kyle Busch|
|2009||4 laps||0.098||11||Kyle Busch|
|2008||34 laps||1.969||8||Carl Edwards|
|2007||31 laps||1.405||9||Carl Edwards|
|2006||46 laps||0.591||10||Matt Kenseth|
|2005||2 laps||0.511||16||Matt Kenseth|
|2004||101 laps||4.930||9||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
The closest the Bristol Night Race came to an overtime finish was in 2005, where the race ended on a two-lap shootout; 2009 also came close with a four-lap dash. But while overtime does consist of a two-lap shootout, the two-lap sprint to end 2005 occurred on laps 499 and 500; no extra distance was required.
In recent years, the event has run long to the end. The 131-lap run to end Saturday (Sept. 16) was the longest final-green flag run in the last 20 years, and the last five races have ended – on average – with a 95.2 lap run to the finish. That’s a hefty number for an event known in part for its potential of chaos.
In fact, of the six longest runs to end the race since overtime began, four of them have come in the last five seasons. This year (131) and 2019 (113) take the top two spots, while 2004 (101), 2021 (93), 2010 (86) and 2020 (82) follow closely behind.
Is there a reason or explanation for the lack of late race cautions in the last five seasons?
Car counts likely play a role. Forty-three cars at every track and every race was the standard for the NASCAR Cup Series from 1998 to 2015, until the field was reduced to 40 cars for the start of 2016.
The Bristol Night race saw 40 cars in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020, while 39 showed up in 2019. The number dropped to 38 in 2021, and it’s dropped to 36 – the chartered entries – for the two races with the Next Gen car.
Saturday’s showdown saw 83.7% of the cars that would’ve been entered in the same race for 2015. And when it comes to a 0.533-mile track like Bristol Motor Speedway, dropping seven cars makes a big difference.
Just look at February’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Twenty-seven cars competed in the main event at the 0.25-mile track, and the 150-lap, 37.5-mile race saw the yellow flag wave 16 times. An absolute shocker, I tell you.
Reducing the Clash field to even 20 cars would reduce the amount of collisions. And while the effect on Bristol is far less extreme, the same process has happened since the car counts have dropped.
Of the 11 Bristol Night Races between 2005 to 2015 with 43 cars, five of them had double-digit cautions. In the eight events since with <43 cars, 2022 was the only race to reach 10.
So, as the field completed its 20th Bristol Night Race in a row without overtime, the lower car counts and longer runs to the finish suggest that the streak may continue for quite some time.
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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