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DATE News (chronologically)
07/18/07
nascar
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

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