Car drivers must dodge to survive at Bristol – NASCAR talk

With only Christopher Bell locked into the next round of the playoffs, the first item on every other driver’s to-do list is simply to survive Bristol.

The worst thing that can happen to a playoff driver is to take himself out of the race.

The second worst thing is another driver taking it out.

During a SiriusXM Speedway crash discussion, host Dave Moody asked if some drivers tend to crash into each other more than other drivers.

I suspected they did, but here are the numbers.

The method

Never trust statistics unless you know what data was used, where it came from, and how the claimant arrived at his results.

I started with NASCAR’s list of precautions, selecting all crashes and spins involving two or more cars. For 2022, this amounts to a total of 69 incidents involving 280 vehicles.

However, road accidents often do not trigger warnings. So I’ve added the list of incidents I compiled from analyzing video footage from the five road races. This provided another 20 incidents with 48 cars.

I then identified all pairwise correlations. That’s a fancy way of saying I found all the pairs of drivers who were in the same accidents.

For Ross Chastain, for example, I counted the number of times car number 1 was in a crash that also involved car number 2, car number 3, etc. I repeated this for each driver.

The score for each pair of drivers is the number of total accidents they have had. These numbers ranged from zero to six.

No analysis is ever absolute. So here are the caveats:

  • Accident counts are subjective. I may not have counted an accident or two in road racing that someone else might. NASCAR does not count non-warning accidents.
  • I have not distinguished between two-car accidents and multi-car accidents. All of these potentially interfere with the driver’s finish. But drivers take two-car squabbles a little more personally. So they get more attention and we remember them better.

Who makes contact with the most cars?

I begin by examining how many doubles collisions each driver recorded in the 28 races this year. Again, a pair collision is simply an accident or spin involving both drivers.

Two of this year’s rookie class rise to the top of the list. Harrison Burton was involved in 75 doubles interactions and Todd Gilliland in 70.

Being a rookie doesn’t necessarily mean you mess with more cars. Austin Cindric had only 45 pair interactions.

The third driver in the overall standings is veteran Denny Hamlin with 66. Other than Burton, Gilliland and Hamlin, no driver has more than 60 doubleheader collisions this year.

Six drivers have points between 50 and 59.

Justin Haley holds the lowest score of any full-time driver at 19. Other low-scoring drivers are:

Specific pairs

If collisions were random, then each car would have approximately the same pairwise collision score with every other car. We already know that we shouldn’t expect this, because where the cars usually go affects who will collide with whom.

Cars that tend to move at the front of the field are more likely to collide with other cars that are moving at the front of the field. The same goes for middle and backup drivers. The only exception is on superspeedways, because these crashes tend to collect a wider range of positions.

The two drivers involved in the most common incidents this year are Cindric and Burton, with six total. One-ninth of Cindric’s incidents involved Burton.

But running position cannot fully explain these data.

Cindric’s running average is 17.0, which is nearly five spots further than Burton’s average of 22.9. But playoff driver Austin Dillon averaged 18.2 and shared no incidents with Burton.

Cindric and Dylan also have no incidents in common.

However, running position may explain the other two drivers scoring high at Burton. Gilliland and Corey LaJoie each have five total incidents with No. 21. LaJoie’s running average is 25.4 and Gilliland’s is 23.5.

But LaJoie has only one incident in common with Gilliland.

If this is confusing, the diagram below may help. I mark each driver with his car number. The numbers on the arrows show you how many shared incidents each pair has.

Aside from the Burton/Gilliland and Burton/LaJoie pairings, only two other pairs of drivers had five head-to-head meetings. Denny Hamlin shared five incidents each with Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

How to survive in Bristol

The table below shows pairs of drivers with scores of four or more for each of the drivers in the playoffs. These are the cars every driver must avoid if they want to survive Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, USA Network.) Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, William Byron and Alex Bowman not included , because no one had such scores of four or more.A table showing the drivers in the playoffs and which cars they were most involved in accidents with.

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