Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: How Important Is Home-Track Advantage?

It seems like every time NASCAR comes to Atlanta Motor Speedway, the cheers for Chase Elliott are louder than usual.

Partly because they probably are. The famed son of Bill Elliott — or Awesome Bill from Dawsonville — Elliott is the Peach State’s native son as well.

But it isn’t just the fans that think Elliott always has a better chance at home.

DraftKings has Elliott at 12-1 odds to win in Atlanta, despite his last win at the track coming in 2022 in his only NASCAR Cup Series win at the track.

This begs the question, then: How much does home-track advantage really matter?

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Taking the winners from only the Next Gen era and comparing them with their home states, drivers have only won a race within the borders of their native states a grand total of three times. That’s not a typo. Three times. Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway in 2022, Denny Hamlin (who was born in Tampa but lived in Virginia for most of his childhood) at Richmond Raceway in 2022, and, in that same year, Elliott’s victory at Atlanta.

Last season, there were no victors at “home tracks.” There certainly were tracks some drivers are better at than others, but the home-track advantage as far as wins were concerned was nonexistent.

Therefore, it’s easy to determine that being at home is by no means a wide-open path to victory lane. But what about top fives?

That gets much more interesting. In just the last two seasons, there have been 15 instances of drivers making the top five at their home tracks. The most prevalent of these have been Kyle Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway three times, Hamlin at Richmond and Martinsville Speedway three times combined, Kevin Harvick at Auto Club twice and Aric Almirola twice at Daytona International Speedway.

Granted, this is a small sample size, but here’s what it says: The Next Gen strategy is working, at least when it comes to victory lane. When NASCAR set out to implement the new car, parity was the name of the game. That was further evidenced in the number of different winners across the series in the past two years.

To put 2023 in perspective, can anyone guess the number of home-track wins in the last two years of the previous generation of cars? Three. The exact same amount that happened in 2022, the first year of the new car.

Last year, then, serves as the first season in at least three years that hasn’t led to a home-track winner. Is this an anomaly, or something more?

Has the Next Gen car taken away the home-track advantage? And if so, is that a good thing?

Truth be told, no, it hasn’t. The best drivers still do better than average on their home turf, at least up to this point. However, that could be changing. If 2024 is a record-low year for top fives for home track racers, perhaps NASCAR has completed its mission.

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When the car was first released, it was always going to be a process. Complete parity was not going to be reached in the matter of a season or two. However, 2023 could serve as a signal that such parity is imminent. If that’s the goal, NASCAR is off to a good start. No Florida native finished inside the top five at Daytona. However, that’s Daytona, and any fan knows it’s an unpredictable place.

There are still some things that need to change with the cars, though. Most of them are obvious — the cars need to be able to handle more horsepower, the drivers need to be penalized somehow for things like missing corners, etc. — but there are plenty of minute things as well.

The skinny is this: There may still be a bit of a home-track advantage, and whether anyone thinks that is a good thing or not doesn’t quite matter, because this is the situation into which NASCAR chose to put itself. If parity is something NASCAR is after, 2024 will have to serve as a turning point. This is year three of the new car, and things tend to come in threes, according to old wives.

Parity or lack thereof, it’s not going to stop Elliott fans from cheering a bit louder than anyone else this weekend.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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