Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: How Often Does the Dominant Car Fail to Finish?

Kyle Larson led 199 of the 267 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway en route a win one year ago, and on Sunday (Oct. 22), he looked poised for a repeat.

Larson won the first stage and led 96 of the first 161 laps until fading to third at the end of stage two. He remained in the hunt during the final stage, however, and as green flag pit stops began around lap 210, Larson was right within striking distance of race leader Ryan Blaney.

Both drivers came down pit road for service on lap 213. In an attempt to make up time on Blaney during pit entry, Larson barreled (no pun intended) down the apron out of turn 4 and swerved to the right to avoid Blaney as the two entered pit road. In doing so, Larson crashed into the sand barriers and ended his day on the spot.

As Larson won last weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his wreck won’t impact his championship aspirations. But it always stings to lose, and in a race where he had arguably the best car all day, Larson only had a 34th-place finish to show for his effort.

It’s been quite a while since a car took a trip into the sand barriers, and it’s relatively rare to see the dominant car retire from the race.

How frequently does it occur?

To figure that out, I am going to split the results between superspeedways (Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway since 2022) and non-superspeedways.

It’s hard to give a definitive answer for ‘dominance’, but let’s say that for this project, the dominant car is the one that led the most laps.

I’ve scanned the results of every NASCAR Cup Series race since 2014, and in 314 non-superspeedway races, the driver that led the most laps failed to finish eight times.

DriverDateTrackLaps LedLaps Completed% of Laps LedFinishDNF Reason
Kyle LarsonOct. 2023Homestead9621444.934thCrash
Martin Truex Jr.May 2023Darlington14528051.831stCrash
Kyle BuschSept. 2022Darlington15534544.930thEngine
Denny HamlinNov. 2017Phoenix19327570.235thCrash
Martin Truex Jr.Sept. 2017Richmond19840349.120thCrash
Kyle BuschJuly 2017Indianapolis8711079.134thCrash
Martin Truex Jr.June 2017Sonoma258629.137thEngine
Kyle BuschAug. 2016Bristol25635771.739thCrash

Six of the eight retirements were due to crash damage, while the other two were engine failures. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch DNF’d three races each, while Denny Hamlin and Larson each added one race to the total. Altogether, the driver that led the most laps has DNF’d in 2.5% (8/314) of all non-superspeedway races in the last 10 years.

One race was in 2016, four races were in 2017, and that was it for the Gen 6 car. The next most-laps-led DNF didn’t happen until 2022, and Larson’s crash made Homestead the second such race of 2023.

Of course, there are a few technicalities with this method. The damaged vehicle policy (DVP) was not implemented until 2017, and before that, teams had as many laps as they needed to repair a wrecked race car. Since 2017, the DVP has essentially rendered that obsolete.

For a few examples of dominant cars that were repaired, Joey Logano led 207 laps in the Nov. 2015 race at Martinsville Speedway until Matt Kenseth (in)famously wrecked him in turn 1 with just under 50 laps to go. The No. 22 team repaired Logano’s car, and he returned to the race to take the checkered flag 43 laps down.

Another such race in 2015 was at Bristol Motor Speedway in April, where Kevin Harvick led 184 laps before getting caught up in a multi-car crash past the halfway. He returned to the track to also finish 43 laps down.

There are also instances where the dominant car wrecked at the very end of the race and was able to nurse home a beat-up car that otherwise would have DNF’d.

The most prominent example of that came at the 2018 Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race, where Larson led 47 of the 109 laps before getting collected in a turn 1 pileup with less than a handful of laps to go. With just an overtime restart left to run, Larson circled a critically damaged car for two laps to complete the race, and he even hit the wall out of the final turn as he crossed the start/finish line.

Even then, that’s only 11 garage stays in 314 races: a remarkably small percentage.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud: It's Time for the Title Race to Go Back to Homestead

On the flip side of the coin, superspeedways are a completely different story due to the tight-quarters racing, huge packs and prevalence of huge crashes. Of the 44 superspeedway races since 2014, nine (20.5%) of them saw the driver that led the most laps DNF. And of those nine races, seven of them have come in the last five seasons.

DriverDateTrackLaps LedLaps Completed% of Laps LedFinishDNF Reason
Chase BriscoeAug. 2023Daytona6715643.030thCrash
Brad KeselowskiFeb. 2023Daytona4221119.922ndCrash
Chase ElliottAug. 2022Daytona3113722.631stCrash
Joey LoganoOct. 2020Talladega4518823.926thCrash
Joey LoganoAug. 2020Daytona3615822.827thCrash
Austin DillonJuly 2019Daytona4611839.033rdCrash
Matt DiBenedettoFeb. 2019Daytona4919025.828thCrash
Brad KeselowskiJuly 2017Daytona3511331.031stCrash
Brad KeselowskiOct. 2016Talladega9014462.538thEngine

With percentages of 20.5% and 2.5%, there are 8.2 dominant cars that DNF at a superspeedway for every car that DNF’s at a non-superspeedway.

And while roughly 1-in-5 cars that lead the most laps at a superspeedway go on to DNF, just 1-in-40 cars of the same cars have DNF’d at non-superspeedways in the last 10 years. With those numbers, Larson’s crash into the barrels at Homestead was a relatively freak accident.

About the author

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Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Randy Rabenold

I’m a stat guy so I like your research/article. Follow up question. Are you saying that since 2016, the dominate car did not lose the race because of a late race caution that required a late race or overtime re-start?

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