Sunday’s (Oct. 1) YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was a wonder to watch from start to finish. But perhaps the only thing as fun as Sunday’s show is analyzing the results of its box score.
Of the 38 drivers in the field, 24 of them led at the stripe. Seven drivers led at least 10 laps, while 13 led at least five. No one led more than 12 consecutive laps, and altogether, the 188-lap event saw 70 lead changes at the start/finish line: the highest total since 2011 and the seventh highest in NASCAR Cup Series history.
All seven were at superspeedways, and six of the seven were produced by Talladega.
Five of the top seven totals came from the 2010 and 2011 seasons, famously known as the era of tandem drafting. In contrast to the two-, three- and four-wide packs of cars seen in the present day, the tandem era saw cars run nose-to-tail in sets of two. Drafting in pairs split up the large packs (a phenomena most prominently seen in the lower left image), but it led to lead changes lap after lap as trailing pairs had the ability to pick up a full head of steam and sail on by the leading duos.
The tandem draft was over as soon as it began, however, as the superspeedway aero packages were tweaked to bring back pack racing for 2012.
When excluding the tandem era, Sunday’s race and the Talladega race from May 1984 are the outliers on top of lead-change mountain. The 1984 race came before the era of the restrictor plate, which was implemented in the 1988 season at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega in order to curb the dangerously high speeds that the cars had grown capable of.
Therefore, Sunday’s 500-miler marked the most lead changes ever seen in the current era of pack racing.
And whether it’s unrestricted or restricted speeds, Talladega just has a knack at producing those race-long battles. Of the 16 Cup races to have 60-plus lead changes, 14 of them came at Talladega.
|Date||Track||Distance (miles)||Lead Changes|
No other track has been able to hold a candle to Talladega in the lead change department. And with the current rules, cars and aerodynamic packages, it doesn’t look like any track ever will.
Nevertheless, lead changes are only one part of watching an entire race. The number of lead changes shouldn’t make or break whether or not a race is enjoyable, and the diversity of tracks on the Cup schedule means that almost every venue has something to offer.
To end this week’s column, I’ve provided a list of every track that is on the points-paying 2023 schedule in addition to North Wilkesboro Speedway (exhibition) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, which will return in 2024.
For tracks that have been on the schedule earlier than the 1997 season (the year that the 1990s and 2000s boom era of new tracks began), I’ve listed the record number of lead changes before and after 1997. For tracks that have been added to the schedule since 1997, only the track record is listed.
|Track||Length (Type)||Total Cup Races||Most LCs (Before 1997)||Most LCs (Since 1997)|
|Atlanta||1.540 (O)||119||45 (November 1982)||46 (March 2022)|
|Auto Club||2.000 (O)||33||N/A||35 (March 2014)|
|Bristol||0.533 (O)||123||40 (April 1991)||29 (March 2010)|
|Bristol Dirt||0.533 (D)||3||N/A||6 (April 2022)|
|Circuit of the Americas||3.410 (R)||3||N/A||16 (March 2023)|
|Charlotte||1.500 (O)||125||54 (May 1979)||46 (October 2000)|
|Charlotte ROVAL||2.280 (R)||5||N/A||17 (October 2020)|
|Chicago Street||2.140 (S)||1||N/A||7 (July 2023)|
|Darlington||1.366 (O)||125||41 (Sept. 1982)||35 (May 2008)|
|Daytona||2.500 (O)||153||59 (February 1974)||74 (February 2011)|
|Dover||1.000 (O)||105||29 (Sept. 1980 & May 1986)||25 (Sept. 1999 & May 2009)|
|Gateway||1.250 (O)||2||N/A||12 (June 2022)|
|Homestead||1.500 (O)||24||N/A||26 (November 2011)|
|Indianapolis||2.500 (O)||27||21 (August 1994)||26 (August 2008)|
|Indianapolis Road Course||2.439 (R)||3||N/A||13 (August 2021)|
|Kansas||1.500 (O)||36||N/A||37 (May 2023)|
|Las Vegas||1.500 (O)||31||N/A||28 (March 2007)|
|Martinsville||0.526 (O)||149||25 (September 1980||33 (March 2014)|
|Michigan||2.000 (O)||106||65 (August 1981)||31 (June 2008)|
|Nashville||1.333 (O)||3||N/A||21 (June 2023)|
|New Hampshire||1.058 (O)||52||23 (September 1996)||23 (July 2002)|
|North Wilkesboro||0.625 (O)||93||28 (October 1995)||N/A|
|Phoenix||1.000 (O)||54||20 (October 1993)||28 (February 2011)|
|Pocono||2.500 (O)||90||56 (July 1979)||30 (June 2004)|
|Richmond||0.750 (O)||134||25 (Feb. 1991 & March 1996)||24 (Sept. 1998 & May 2007)|
|Sonoma||1.990 (R)||34||10 (June 1991)||13 (June 2017)|
|Talladega||2.660 (O)||109||75 (May 1984)||88 (April 2010 & 2011)|
|Texas||1.500 (O)||43||N/A||36 (September 2022)|
|Watkins Glen||2.450 (R)||40||14 (August 1991)||14 (August 2006 & 2011)|
As expected, the intermediate and superspeedway ovals dominate the list. But their designs allow for the most lead changes, so again, all of these numbers are relative to the layout of the track.
Up next week is the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, which holds the record for the most lead changes on the current road courses at 17. Could that number be broken again for Sunday’s (Oct. 8) 109-lap feature?
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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