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NASCAR’s Golden Age of Competition is Now** DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Present-day NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races offer closer competition than anytime in history, a new NASCAR statistical analysis has shown.
Taking into account such statistics as cars on the lead lap, average leaders per race and margin of victory, racing since 1970 has become more competitive and more unpredictable than ever.

Consider this: In 1970, 22 of the 48 races “featured” only ONE car on the lead lap at the end of the race. Not since 1994 has a race ended with one car on the lead lap (Geoffrey Bodine at North Wilkesboro).

In the early 1970s, it was common for a race-winner to have a margin of victory of multiple laps. In 1973 at Darlington, for example, David Pearson finished 13 laps ahead of second-place finisher Benny Parsons. Also, in April 1977 at Bristol, Cale Yarborough finished seven laps ahead of runner-up Dick Brooks – and led all but four laps in that race.

Since then, margins of victory have steadily decreased. Unimpeded runs to the checkered flag are a fading memory.

The chart below illustrates the competitive progression of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

__One Car on Lead Lap at Finish (since 1970)__

1970 – 22 times 1980 – 2 times

1971 – 21 times 1981 – 3 times

1972 – 12 times 1982 – 5 times

1973 – 15 times 1983 – 1 time

1974 – 6 times 1984 – 1 time

1975 – 10 times 1985 – 1 time

1976 – 9 times 1986 – 2 times

1977 – 3 times 1987 – 1 time

1978 – 6 times 1991 – 1 time

1979 – 6 times 1994 – 1 time

Since 1970, the race winner was the only car on the lead lap 128 times. From the years 1970 to 1979, it happened 110 times. In the ’80s, 16 times. In the ‘90s, only twice; and since 1995, it has not happened at all.

__CLOSE FINISHES__

In May of 1993, NASCAR revolutionized the way it kept score, going from handheld stopwatches or analog timing clocks to integrated electronic scoring. On May 16, 1993 at Sonoma, Geoffrey Bodine defeated Ernie Irvan by 0.53 second in the first race using electronic scoring. A more precise way of measuring victory margins was established. Prior to electronic scoring, margins of victory were scored in either laps, car lengths or feet. Now the standard is measured in fractions of a second.

Comparing the close racing between now and 30 years ago is one thing, but a comparison between today’s racing and racing just 10 years ago shows how the competition has improved in such a short period of time.

Of the closest finishes since 1993, seven of the top 10 have occurred since 2000. Here is the list:

__Closest Finishes__

Rk Date Track MOV Winner Runner-Up

1. 3/16/03 Darlington .002 Ricky Craven Kurt Busch

2. 7/7/07 Daytona .005 Jamie McMurray Kyle Busch

2. 7/25/93 Talladega .005 Dale Earnhardt Ernie Irvan

4. 3/11/01 Atlanta .006 Kevin Harvick Jeff Gordon

5. 7/2/94 Daytona .008 Jimmy Spencer Ernie Irvan

6. 3/12/00 Atlanta .010 Dale Earnhardt Bobby Labonte

6. 2/22/04 Rockingham .010 Matt Kenseth Kasey Kahne

8. 11/20/05 Homestead .017 Greg Biffle Mark Martin

9. 2/18/07 Daytona .020 Kevin Harvick Mark Martin

10. 7/24/94 Talladega .025 Jimmy Spencer Bill Elliott

This season, the margin of victory has been under a second in 10 of the 19 races. In six of those races, the race was run using the Car of Tomorrow.

__LEAD LAP FINISHES__

The percentage of cars on the lead lap has grown – and in some cases doubled. In the 48 races held in 1970, only 5.5 percent of the cars that started the race finished on the lead lap. That number, too, has steadily grown. Below is a three-decade sampling:

__Percentage of Cars on Lead Lap__

1976 – 6.3%

1986 – 15.6%

1996 – 30.7%

2006 – 43.6%

Furthermore, if you take the best and worse year per decade in terms of lead lap finishing percentage, the results continue to be lopsided.

__1970-1979__

Best: 1977 – 8.5%

Worst: 1973 – 4.1%

__1980-1989__

Best: 1989 – 21.3%

Worst: 1980 – 9.5%

__1990-1999__

Best: 1997 – 32.0%

Worst: 1991 – 21.1%

__2000-2006__

Best: 2005 – 43.9%

Worst: 2000 – 34.1%

__MORE RACE WINNERS__

More cars running on the lead lap lends itself to more competition for the win which in turn lends itself to better parity. What really stands out is the year-by-year growth in terms of leaders per race, and winners per season.

In 1970, 18 races were won by one driver. In 1971, one driver won 21 races. Since 2000, no driver has won more than eight races in a season. Through 19 races this year, 13 different drivers have visited Victory Lane. In 1970, there were 12 different race-winners the entire season – and that year featured 48 races on the schedule. Below is a year-by-year look at total race winners:

__Race Winners Per Year__

1970 – 12 in 48 races 1989 – 11 in 29 races

1971 – 12 in 48 races 1990 – 14 in 29 races

1972 – 8 in 31 races 1991 – 14 in 29 races

1973 – 8 in 28 races 1992 – 12 in 29 races

1974 – 5 in 30 races 1993 – 10 in 30 races

1975 – 8 in 30 races 1994 – 12 in 31 races

1976 – 8 in 30 races 1995 – 11 in 31 races

1977 – 7 in 30 races 1996 – 11 in 31 races

1978 – 7 in 30 races 1997 – 11 in 32 races

1979 – 9 in 31 races 1998 – 11 in 33 races

1980 – 10 in 31 races 1999 – 11 in 34 races

1981 – 9 in 31 races 2000 – 14 in 34 races

1982 – 8 in 30 races 2001 – 19 in 36 races

1983 – 12 in 30 races 2002 – 18 in 36 races

1984 – 12 in 30 races 2003 – 17 in 36 races

1985 – 9 in 28 races 2004 – 13 in 36 races

1986 – 13 in 29 races 2005 – 15 in 36 races

1987 – 10 in 29 races 2006 – 13 in 36 races

1988 – 14 in 29 races 2007 – 13 in 19 races

As illustrated in the preceding chart, 2001 – with 19 different race winners – was NASCAR’s most prolific year in terms of parity since 1970. The year 1974 saw only five different winners, the lowest total in the period. Per decade, the average breakdown is as such: 8.4 different race winners in the ‘70s (beginning with 1970), 10.8 in the ’80s, 11.7 in the ’90s and 15.3 since 2000 – which would presumably grow with 17 races remaining in 2007.

__MORE RACE LEADERS__

The races themselves continue to grow in competitiveness. The number of leaders per race has seen steady growth since 1970. In 1970 a race averaged four different leaders. That number has been at least 10 for the past three full seasons and currently the average for the 2007 season is 11.

__Average Leaders Per Race By Decade__

1970-1979: 5.4

1980-89: 8.1

1990-99: 8.3

2000-07: 9.8

In each of the past six races, there have been at least eight different leaders:

- Pocono, eight leaders

- Michigan, 11 leaders

- Infineon, eight leaders

- New Hampshire, 11 leaders

- Daytona, 11 leaders

- Chicago, nine leaders