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What is it that draws so many eyeballs to each NASCAR race, be it live in the stands or watching on TV or online? Is it the 200-mph speeds? The cars themselves? People’s admiration for the teams or drivers? Well, all of these things count, of course, but one of the other big attractions is the excitement of whether or not the race will feature a crash, and the bigger the better, potentially.
Since 2001 there have been an average of 220 crashes per year in the NASCAR cup series. This equals an average of 6 crashes per race. These crashes can range in severity from a small 2 car collision to a multiple 20 car “Big One” Despite the frequency of crashes no fatalities have occurred since 2001.
It’s not that people are especially morbid or strangely macabre when it comes to motorsports, but there’s no denying that a crash or two does seem to spice up the turning left that is otherwise the most dominant driving feature of each race from the spectator’s perspective. But how often do these crashes really happen? This is the core question of today’s article.
How Often Do Crashes Happen in NASCAR Races?
Now let’s take a look at the frequency of crashes in NASCAR races, focusing on the Cup Series. General numbers showed that in the decade after Earnhardt’s death, there were still 220 crashes per year in the NASCAR Cup Series — an average of about 6 per race. It’s important to remember that “crash” refers to everything from one car crashing to a small number of cars and all the way up to a giant catastrophic pile-up. Therefore, no one should think of a crash as any one specific or particular happening on the track.
As it turns out, some tracks and events are “luckier” than others when it comes to crashes:
Daytona International Speedway
Home of the Daytona 500, the Daytona International Speedway has already seen the highest total number of cars involved in crashes, with about 66 percent of cars getting into accidents. That’s the highest rate that it’s been at since 2016.
Statistics from 2021 show that about 79.5 percent of the entire NASCAR driver field has been involved in crashes at Daytona in the last 5 Daytona 500 events. That’s up from 44.8 percent in the field for the 5 races prior to that.
Before Earnhardt’s death in 2001, Daytona was also home to the most on-track fatalities, with 8 of the 28 total deaths that have occurred in the NASCAR Cup Series since the 1950s.
The next most deadly tracks were the Charlotte Motor Speedway with three fatalities in 1964 and 1965, and Langhorne Speedway, with three more fatalities in 1952, 1953, and 1956. Two of the fatal crashes at Langhorne weren’t even during the main race, but during qualifying stages.
Frequency Won’t Necessarily Drop, but Fatalities Have
What’s most important is the fact that while it seems that crashes remain a frequent — and still entertaining — feature of most races, they are now almost never fatal. With each year that passes, the last fatalities in the sport are put further and further behind us.
What’s more, NASCAR has actively taken steps to ensure that drivers are kept safe by installing myriad safety equipment that is specifically designed to prevent the worst sorts of injuries that could kill a driver in a crash. To that end, a particular focus has been placed on protecting both the head and neck.
There are certain things that NASCAR can’t do to eliminate crashes. Short of cutting driver numbers in half and imposing a 100-mph speed limit, there’s not much about the race itself that can be made much safer short of installing some kind of science-fiction energy shields on the cars. Maybe one day…
For now, the best we have is the thrills and spills of the tracks, made all the more enjoyable because drivers and teams can laugh about or reflect on them later when the racing is done!
Background: Crashes Are Part and Parcel of Motorsport Danger
There’s simply no escaping the fact that motorsports in general are dangerous. It turns out that when you put up to 40 cars on a track together and have them compete in completing multiple circuits of that track in the fastest-possible times, things get pretty risky! Sometimes, one or more cars might be involved in a crash. The good news is that while these crashes are a lot more frequent than you’d even imagine, they are very rarely fatal.
In the case of the flagship NASCAR Cup Series, while dozens of crashes continue to happen, there hasn’t been a fatality in the sport since Dale Earnhardt on February 18, 2001. It was actually Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500 that spurred most of the modern additions and developments to car safety that have meant crashes have been death-free for more than two decades now.
Some fatalities have occurred since Earnhard’s death across other NASCAR series, but when all NASCAR series are factored in, the last tragic event was still back in June 2009 with the death of Carlos Pardo during the NASCAR Mexico Corona Series at the Autodromo Miguel E. Abed in Amozoc.
Formula 1 Vs. IndyCar Vs. NASCAR – Whose Crashes Are Worst?
If we understand the worst-possible crash as one in which drivers involved die, then as it happens, NASCAR and its Cup Series in particular has one of the best records, even better than those of either Formula 1 or IndyCar.
The last death in a Formula 1 race took place in 2015 — the race itself was in 2014 — where Jules Bianchi’s crash left him with critical head injuries and in a coma after the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014. He eventually succumbed to those injuries.
Before that, Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash in 1994 at Imola was the last previous fatality. F1 has seen 52 deaths in total, 32 of which were in their Championship races, a fatality rate of just 3 percent (out of about 1,000 total races).
IndyCar turns out to be the most dangerous of the three, with 95 deaths spread over 1,300 races since 1916, bringing a total of 7 percent. NASCAR has seen 28 deaths since 1952, which were spread over 2,600 Cup Series races, meaning a death rate of just 1 percent.
With 6 crashes per race NASCAR is certainly an exciting spectacle for fans both at the track and watching at home. no other sport comes close to the 200 plus crashes a year that NASCAR has.
However despite these crashes it is one of the safer forms of motor sport especially when compared to The other Popular North American Racing- IndyCar!