How often does the dominant car fail to finish?

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

Larson won the first stage and led 96 of the first 161 laps before fading to third at the end of the second stage. However, he remained in the hunt during the final stage, and when the green-flag pit stops began around lap 210, Larson was within striking distance of race leader Ryan Blaney.

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

Since Larson won last weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his crash won’t affect his championship aspirations. But it’s always a bummer to lose, and in a race where he had arguably the best car all day, Larson only had 34th to show for his efforts.

It’s been a while since a car made a trip in the sand barriers and it’s relatively rare to see the dominant car retire from the race.

How often does it happen?

To figure this out, I’ll split the results between superspeedway (Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Atlanta Motor Speedway from 2022) and non-superspeedway.

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

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

Driver Date Track Laps Led Completed laps % guided tours finish DNF Reason
Kyle Larson October 2023 Homestead 96 214 44.9 34th Disaster
Martin Truex Jr May 2023 Darlington 145 280 51.8 31st Disaster
Kyle Busch September 2022 Darlington 155 345 44.9 30th Engine
Denny Hamlin November 2017 Phoenix 193 275 70.2 35th Disaster
Martin Truex Jr September 2017 Richmond 198 403 49.1 20th Disaster
Kyle Busch July 2017 Indianapolis 87 110 79.1 34th Disaster
Martin Truex Jr June 2017 Sonoma 25 86 29.1 37th Engine
Kyle Busch August 2016 Bristol 256 357 71.7 39th Disaster

Six of the eight recalls 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. Overall, the driver who led the most laps had a DNF in 2.5% (8/314) of all non-Superspeedway races over 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 DNF with the most laps didn’t happen until 2022, and Larson’s crash made Homestead the second such race for 2023 Mr.

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 fix a broken race car. As of 2017, DVP essentially made this obsolete.

For a few examples of dominant cars that were repaired, Joey Logano led 207 laps in the November 2015 race at Martinsville Speedway until Matt Kenseth (in)famously crashed 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 into a multi-car crash midway through. He returned to the track to also finish 43 laps back.

There are also cases where the dominant car crashes at the very end of the race and manages to take care of a crashed car that would have otherwise DNF’d.

The most notable example of this was the 2018 ROVAL race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Larson led 47 of the 109 laps before being pitted in Turn 1 with less than a few laps to go. With just one extended restart remaining, Larson lapped a critically damaged car for two laps to finish the race and even hit the final turn wall as he crossed the start/finish line.

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

On the other side of the coin, superspeedways are a completely different story because of the tight races, huge packs and the prevalence of huge crashes. Of the 44 Superspeedway races since 2014, nine (20.5%) of them have seen the driver who led the most laps DNF. And of those nine contests, seven of them have come in the last five seasons.

Driver Date Track Laps Led Completed laps % guided tours finish DNF Reason
Chase Briscoe August 2023 Daytona 67 156 43.0 30th Disaster
Brad Keselowski February 2023 Daytona 42 211 19.9 22nd Disaster
Chase Elliott August 2022 Daytona 31 137 22.6 31st Disaster
Joey Logano October 2020 Talladega 45 188 23.9 the 26th Disaster
Joey Logano August 2020 Daytona 36 158 22.8 the 27th Disaster
Austin Dillon July 2019 Daytona 46 118 39.0 the 33rd Disaster
Matt Di Benedetto February 2019 Daytona 49 190 25.8 28th Disaster
Brad Keselowski July 2017 Daytona 35 113 31.0 31st Disaster
Brad Keselowski October 2016 Talladega 90 144 62.5 38th Engine

With percentages of 20.5% and 2.5%, there are 8.2 dominant non-superspeedway cars for every non-superspeedway car.

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


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