Accidents will happen. That is true in life and even more so in the NASCAR Cup Series, where drivers can push their cars to the 200 mph range on the straightaways of the superspeedways. But there is a distinction to be made between swapping a little of paint at Bristol and triggering “the big one” in the Daytona 500. And it’s why the numbers show that racing in the general vicinity of Austin Dillon or John Hunter Nemechek is a good way for a driver to end his day early.
Those two and Ryan Newman were the very definition of “an accident waiting to happen” last season.
Kevin Harvick stayed out of trouble and in NASCAR Cup Series races
Kevin Harvick was the only driver running at the finish of all 36 NASCAR Cup Series races in the 2020 season, and he ended on the lead lap in 33 of them. Although he somehow managed to miss the Championship Four field at the end of the schedule, Harvick did win nine times in a midseason span of 25 starts for the most impressive body of work in NASCAR’s top series.
The lesson there is simple: You have to be running at the end in order to win.
Mechanical failures invariably send a car or two back to the garage prematurely in every race, understandable considering the incredible stress that engines and other systems are placed under on Sundays. But the more likely reason for a driver to post a “did not finish” is that he was taken out by an accident.
Some names, including Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, and John Hunter Nemechek, were more likely than others to turn up in accident write-ups.
On the other hand, BuildingSpeed.org charted only six incidents involving Harvick. TobyChristie.com, which uses different criteria, listed Harvick as being involved in 11 “incidents,” which still placed him far down the list.
Ryan Newman’s Daytona 500 was a sign of things to come
There are two things that everyone remembers from the Daytona 500 that kicked off the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series. First, Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag. Second, Ryan Newman was involved in a scary crash at the end.
The mishap on the final lap sent Newman to the hospital, but he was able to walk out in a matter of days rather than weeks, which at first glance looked to be the inevitable outcome. The combination of his injuries being less serious than images from the crash suggested and the pandemic that interrupted the season meant that Newman missed only three races.
However, getting back in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford did not translate into Newman maintaining his usual success. In fact, he recorded his most disappointing season in 19 years as a full-time driver by finishing in the top 10 just twice. He typically averages 14 such finishes a year, and that’s how many he had in 2019.
The Building Speed data shows Newman with eight accidents and seven spins for a total of 15 incidents, tying him with Matt Kenseth for second behind John Hunter Nemechek.
Going strictly by accidents – and taking into account that NASCAR does not count last-lap wrecks like the one Newman experienced at Daytona – the leaders were Nemechek (15), Austin Dillon (13), Ryan Preece (12), and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12). They were followed by Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, and Christopher Bell at 11 apiece.
It is worth keeping in mind that being involved in an accident does not mean that the driver caused it. And even the driver triggering a multi-car wreck could have been the victim of a cut tire or mechanical failure.
The NASCAR Cup Series does have its characters
We all know the warnings about road rage and how it can lead to accidents. At the conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup season, USA Today published the results of a survey that asked drivers a variety of questions.
One of the questions was about who would be likely to exhibit the worst real-life road rage, and one name came up consistently. Joey Logan, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, and Clint Bowyer were among those who pinned the label on Kyle Busch. Bowyer’s name also turned up fairly frequently.
“Kyle Busch, for sure,” Bowman replied. “Have you listened to his radio before?
Said Bowyer: “The old Kurt Busch. Nobody really understands the new Kurt Busch yet or if it’s new or real or if it’s gonna last. But definitely the old Kurt Busch. I would say 10 years ago, for sure.”