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Terminal Natural Lead Changes

by Sean Wrona

Following up on my earlier columns in the How the Races Were Won series, I have invented a new term that provides a different spin on the concept of natural wins. As I undertook this analysis last winter, I certainly saw several flaws with it. Some racing series go through seasons when there are significantly more and/or fewer natural wins than other series. As the equipment in all series has steadily gotten more reliable, fewer drivers tend to inherit the lead incidentally than in the past. Additionally, rules during caution flags/safety car periods such as whether the pits are open or closed can affect how many races are decided due to off-track passes. Furthermore, because oval racing has more on-track passes in general than road racing does, oval races are more likely to be won naturally, and certain periods of IndyCar racing have had many more or fewer ovals than others. This clearly leads to bad skews in the natural win list. I decided I wanted a more consistent measure of race pace that would apply to every race (not merely the ones decided by a natural pass) to evaluate on-track passing for the lead on every track equally, not just the ones that are more conducive to more passing (which are more likely to be decided naturally.)

The terminal natural leader (TNL) is defined as the driver who was the last driver to take the lead via a natural pass in the race. Just as before, this excludes strategic assist passes (where one driver passes another on-track after beating the previous leader out of the pits), incidental passes (which also include any instances where the leaders make contact, including bump-and-run passes; some NASCAR fans might argue I am too stringent with this, but you're welcome to revise this yourself if you disagree with my judgments, and also any instances where the eventual winner receives a penalty for an infraction or is revealed in hindsight to have been cheating beyond the shadow of a doubt), and off-track passes (where the lead change is decided in the pits). In an instance when the race was won naturally, the terminal natural leader will always be the winner. In most cases when the race was not won naturally, the terminal natural leader will be someone else, although it is still possible for the winner and the terminal natural leader to be the same without the race having been won naturally (picture an instance where driver Y beats driver X out of the pits on one pit stop exchange before driver X beats driver Y on the next, which could happen). There were in fact two cases in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship this year where this did happen. In the 12 Hours of Sebring, Jeroen Bleekemolen passed Mario Farnbacher late in the event for the GTD class lead when Farnbacher went off-track (which counts as an incidental, not natural pass, because I only count passes as natural if both drivers are at full speed) but Farnbacher inherited the lead and the win a few laps later when Bleekemolen blew an engine. You're welcome to disagree with this philosophy and say that Bleekemolen, not Farnbacher, should be judged as the terminal natural leader instead because Farnbacher's mistake is what gave Bleekemolen the lead, but I still think there is a distinction between on-track battling (racing the driver) and not making mistakes (racing the racetrack) that I am trying to capture here. In the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen in the PC class, Martin Plowman took the lead from Renger van der Zande in the pits but then lost it when he spun, so once again, van der Zande was the winner and the terminal natural leader but did not receive a natural win. I am not saying Farnbacher and van der Zande did not deserve their wins as this is just a classification, but all things considered, this does provide a different perspective on the race that is needed and can have interesting results.

While a natural winner is always the terminal natural leader, the terminal natural leader in the case of incidental, off-track, or strategic assist wins is not nearly so clear. In particular, NASCAR's crapshoot mentality with many fans arguing they throw more cautions than is warranted to ensure a closer field leads to a lot of this, particularly in races with a lot of 'aero push'. One driver beats another out of the pits and leads an entire green-flag run, and then another driver beats this driver out of the pits and leads a green-flag run, and so on and so on, ad nauseum. There was actually I believe a bit less of this year, but it was more due to the recent stunning collapse of competitive depth in NASCAR. Not since the '90s or earlier has the field been so split between haves and have-nots. By and large, only four teams (Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, Penske Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing) were remotely competitive with the odd exception of the #78 Furniture Row car of Martin Truex, and a few of the Hendrick/Stewart-Haas drivers weren't competitive either. This means with fewer competitive cars that the field is less close and those 15 cars have a much, much easier chance of making on-track passes of anyone else than they would have in the past. On the flip side, it was an extremely rare occurrence when anybody outside of 12 cars (those 15 cars minus Kahne, Patrick, and Stewart who were not competitive) led a race naturally at all. Additionally, it seems NASCAR teams have adapted to NASCAR's now increasingly long-standing history of throwing cautions at particular moments in a race to break up long green-flag runs to such a degree that the top teams will now split and have certain cars on each strategy as IndyCar teams have done for years to make fluke winners much more difficult than they were in 2011. The move to double file/shootout-style restarts has certainly gradually increased passing on the restarts over time for better or for worse (although I am no fan of double-file restarts) which also means more races will be decided naturally.

However, there are many races that aren't and these are the interesting ones. In the spring Michigan race, Kurt Busch won after Kevin Harvick cut a tire after dominating the race, but Harvick himself took the lead from Carl Edwards initially in the pits. That means Edwards (who only led in the first 50 laps of the race) was the terminal natural leader, which I doubt most fans would have guessed. Similarly, for all the talk of how lucky Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was in winning at Phoenix thanks to pit stop timing immediately before a red flag for rain ended the race (which he was), fewer noticed that Kevin Harvick, who had dominated the race (and the past several at Phoenix), did not actually take the lead on track at all but only after beating Jimmie Johnson out of the pits, so Johnson, not Harvick, was the terminal natural leader there. Most interesting are likely the Pocono and Watkins Glen summer races. Matt Kenseth won the Pocono race on fuel mileage so everyone could figure out that he was not the terminal natural leader, but Kyle Busch inherited the lead from Joey Logano who ran out of fuel immediately before that. The previous drivers to lead the race *all* did so due to pit stop exchanges (even Logano, Truex, and Kurt Busch), so you have to go back to the initial leader of the race (Kyle Busch) to find the terminal natural leader, even though he only led the first 16 laps and several others after Logano pitted later. Despite eighteen lead changes, none of them were on track. Whenever there are no on-track lead changes, the terminal natural leader is the polesitter. Watkins Glen is another interesting case. Logano inherited the win after Harvick ran out of fuel on the last lap, but Harvick only initially took the lead by staying out of the pits when the previous leaders (Kyle Busch and Keselowski) pitted, Busch only took the lead from Keselowski by a bump-and-run (which I am not counting as natural), and Keselowski only took the lead because his crew made a brilliant call to pit him shortly before a debris caution they anticipated ahead of time, which means that Truex, who took the lead from A.J. Allmendinger early, was actually the terminal natural leader. For all those who may have felt Truex was an undeserving driver in the Championship 4 (regardless of how you feel about that concept, and I am not a fan), he was actually the terminal natural leader four times but only won once. This is proof by and large that he was unlucky. While in my previous column I suggested that drivers who had a greater number of cumulative races led than wins were chokers (or those who had a greater number of wins than cumulative races led were closers), this isn't the entire story. Truex did nothing to choke those races. Getting beaten out of the pits (probably because the #78 does not have the resources to compete with the Penske, Hendrick, and especially Gibbs pit crews) and then not being able to make your way back is not choking. Getting passed on track late in the race as when Jimmie Johnson passed Brad Keselowski at Texas to knock him out of the final round of the chase, might be a much better example. In the spring Richmond race, the terminal natural leader was actually (surprisingly) Jamie McMurray, despite the Ganassi cars not quite being able to compete (although I would say they did a better job of that than the Roush and Childress cars). Unfortunately for McMurray, he got beat out of the pits by Kurt Busch, whom he had just passed, and Busch would go on to lead the rest of the race. For all the talk of how unlucky Kurt Busch was late in events due to being passed after cautions many considered dubious, he actually never was the terminal natural leader in a race this season, so maybe he was actually lucky to have two wins rather than unlucky to not have more.

Combining this analysis with the cumulative races led analysis will provide a perfect analysis to how races were lost to complement my prior 'How the Races Were Won' series. It also I think provides a measure of luck in a sense that has never been measured before. A driver who has more terminal natural leads than wins (such as Truex, who had 4 terminal natural leads to 1) was by definition unlucky (losing races due to team factors rather than his own mistakes, which makes sense considering they are an underfunded team), while a driver who has more wins than terminal natural leads (such as Logano who won 6 races but was only the terminal natural leader twice) was lucky (before I undertook this analysis I was actually going to take Logano's overall season over Harvick's, but this analysis changed my mind). Harvick, however, was only tied with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson with five terminal natural leads each this season. He was unlucky relative to them as Busch and Johnson matched their win total while Harvick had two fewer wins, but still nowhere near as dominant as his stats implied (because several of the races he dominated he originally took the lead due to pit exchanges), and considering Busch did what he did in fewer starts than the other two, I'd say his championship was deserved, farcical or not. Below I have provided complete data on 'How the Races Were Won' for F1, IndyCar, NASCAR Cup, and IMSA for 2015 (a series which I had not done before), and I also update the counts for each type of win, along with the overall counts for terminal natural leads for each driver. To determine whether a driver has been truly clutch (Jimmie Johnson) or merely lucky (as I suspect Bobby Labonte will be) you would need a driver who had more terminal natural races led than cumulative races led, not more wins than cumulative races led, because winning includes factors that relate to the team more than the driver, but terminal natural races led are based on what the driver does. I think this is a better version of the natural win model since it considers all races. Sure, there will occasionally be a few problems (Jeff Gordon's win at Martinsville actually counts as natural since he passed A.J. Allmendinger on-track even though we all know he was not winning that race until Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano), but it still presents a better idea of who had the pace than most other measures to date.

Formula One 2015

Formula One races are invariably decided on pace to such a degree that the terminal natural leader will always be something clear-cut, hence why I did not spend any time discussing this from an F1 perspective (it is much more interesting in terms of analyzing IndyCar and NASCAR because those series tend to have many more crapshoot races.)

TrackRace SummaryType of WinTNL
MelbourneLewis Hamilton led the entire race except for a pit stop exchangenaturalHamilton
SepangSebastian Vettel beat Hamilton on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackHamilton
ShanghaiHamilton led the entire race except for pit stop exchangesnaturalHamilton
BahrainHamilton led the entire race except for pit stop exchangesnaturalHamilton
CatalunyaNico Rosberg inherited the lead after Hamilton pittedoff-trackHamilton
MonacoRosberg inherited the lead after Hamilton pittedoff-trackHamilton
MontrealHamilton led the entire race except for a pit stop exchangenaturalHamilton
Red BullRosberg passed Hamilton on tracknaturalRosberg
SilverstoneHamilton beat Felipe Massa on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackMassa
HungaroringVettel passed Hamilton on tracknaturalVettel
Spa-FrancorchampsHamilton led the entire race except for a pit stop exchangenaturalHamilton
MonzaHamilton led the entire racenaturalHamilton
Marina BayVettel led the entire racenaturalVettel
SuzukaHamilton passed Rosberg on tracknaturalHamilton
SochiHamilton inherited the lead after Rosberg had a throttle failureincidentalRosberg
AustinHamilton passed Rosberg on tracknaturalHamilton
Mexico CityRosberg led the entire race except for pit stop exchangesnaturalRosberg
InterlagosRosberg led the entire race except for pit stop exchangesnaturalRosberg
Yas MarinaRosberg led the entire race except for pit stop exchangesnaturalRosberg

Cumulative wins by type:

DriverTotalNaturalOff-trackIncidentalStrategic Assist
M. Schumacher914332151
R. Schumacher62310

Formula One Terminal Natural Leaders for 2015


IndyCar 2015

A few races may be disputable here. In Josef Newgarden's first win at Barber, he qualified 5th and passed three cars (Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Simon Pagenaud) in likely the most impressive opening lap of the season, but did not pass the early leader Hélio Castroneves until they were buried in traffic after they pitted and others had not. When the erstwhile strategy leaders pitted allowing the original leaders to cycle to the front, Newgarden was now leading. Although originally I only counted wins as natural if there was a lead change for the first position, I decided to change my mind on this during the original analysis. In any respect, Newgarden's win should count as natural since he passed every car who qualified in front of him on the track and won. At Milwaukee, Sébastien Bourdais was penalized $5000 after the race for his car being too light, and since he did (briefly) lap the field in this race, which is so rare nowadays, I think this infraction may be notable. Many people argued after the race that the violation was on such a small scale because they barely missed the clearance (i.e. the #11 team may have still been fast enough to win without it), but I am tough, and a penalty is a penalty, much like how I consider bump-and-run passes (even extremely light ones) to be incidental. Hence, even though Bourdais did pass Tony Kanaan for the lead in the race, I am resetting the terminal natural lead to Newgarden, who led almost the entire race before Dixon beat him out of the pits then Bourdais stayed out of the pits and went off-sequence. Some may ask why I am giving Graham Rahal a natural win for Fontana if I refused to do the same for Bourdais at Milwaukee. Rahal was not penalized for a clear infraction of dropping a fuel can on the track (because the officials claimed they didn't see it). However, in this case, I am judging by the nature of those respective races. Almost nobody held the lead at Fontana for more than a few laps for the entire race due to the mix of pack racing and Handford-style slingshot passing seen in that race, a combination never seen quite in that way before that race. A Rahal penalty may have ultimately done nothing to set him back as he would have likely been to the front and the back several more times for the rest of the race (indeed, he was 14th of 16 cars on the restart after the caution resulting from Rahal dragging his fuel can onto the track), so a drive-through penalty may have done relatively little to hurt him after he caught up to the main pack after the subsequent caution. You really can't know what would have happened in a total crapshoot race like that with endless passing and he still made a pass for the lead despite no technical infractions on his car, while Bourdais's penalty was more likely to have resulted from something that gave him more speed. Needless to say, you can disagree with me on either of these judgment calls, since ultimately they have to be judgment calls.

TrackRace SummaryType of WinTNL
St. PetersburgJuan Pablo Montoya beat Will Power on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackPower
BarberJames Hinchcliffe inherited the lead when Montoya pittedoff-trackMontoya
Long BeachScott Dixon beat Hélio Castroneves on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackCastroneves
BarberJosef Newgarden passed Castroneves on track which became the lead when off-strategy leaders pittednaturalNewgarden
Indy GPPower passed Hinchcliffe on tracknaturalPower
IndianapolisMontoya passed Power on tracknaturalMontoya
Detroit 1Carlos Muñoz inherited the lead when Marco Andretti pittedoff-trackSato
Detroit 2Sébastien Bourdais inherited the lead when Conor Daly pittedoff-trackMontoya
TexasDixon beat Tony Kanaan on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackKanaan
TorontoNewgarden inherited the lead when Castroneves pittedoff-trackPower
FontanaGraham Rahal passed Ryan Briscoe on tracknaturalRahal
MilwaukeeBourdais passed Kanaan on track (but the car was declared illegal after the race)incidentalNewgarden
IowaRyan Hunter-Reay inherited the lead when Rahal pittedoff-trackNewgarden
Mid-OhioRahal inherited the lead when Montoya pittedoff-trackDixon
PoconoHunter-Reay passed Gabby Chaves on tracknaturalHunter-Reay
SonomaDixon inherited the lead when Kanaan pittedoff-trackPower

Cumulative wins by type:

DriverTotalNaturalOff-trackIncidentalStrategic Assist
Mi. Andretti3319761
Unser, Jr.2513390
de Ferran125700
da Matta123531
E. Fittipaldi115141
B. Lazier85210
B. Rahal53110
G. Rahal31101
Marco Andretti20101
C. Fittipaldi20110
J. Lazier11000
J. Andretti10010
Mario Andretti10010
Paul, Jr.10100

IndyCar Terminal Natural Leaders for 2015


NASCAR Sprint Cup 2015

TrackRace SummaryType of WinTNL
DaytonaJoey Logano passed Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin 3-widenaturalLogano
AtlantaJohnson passed Matt Kenseth on tracknaturalJohnson
Las VegasKevin Harvick passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on tracknaturalHarvick
PhoenixHarvick passed Jamie McMurray on tracknaturalHarvick
FontanaBrad Keselowski passed Kurt Busch on tracknaturalKeselowski
MartinsvilleDenny Hamlin passed Kenseth on tracknaturalHamlin
TexasJohnson passed McMurray on tracknaturalJohnson
BristolKenseth inherited the lead when Ku. Busch pittedoff-trackEdwards
RichmondKu. Busch beat McMurray on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackMcMurray
TalladegaEarnhardt, Jr. passed Cole Whitt on tracknaturalEarnhardt, Jr.
KansasJohnson inherited the lead when Harvick pittedoff-trackTruex
CharlotteCarl Edwards inherited the lead after Harvick ran out of fuelincidentalTruex
DoverJohnson passed Harvick on tracknaturalJohnson
PoconoMartin Truex, Jr. passed Harvick on tracknaturalTruex
MichiganKu. Busch inherited the lead when Kyle Larson pittedoff-trackEdwards
Sears PointKyle Busch passed Johnson on tracknaturalKy. Busch
DaytonaEarnhardt, Jr. passed Johnson on tracknaturalEarnhardt, Jr.
ChicagolandKy. Busch passed Logano on tracknaturalKy. Busch
LoudonKy. Busch inherited the lead when Harvick pittedoff-trackHarvick
IndianapolisKy. Busch passed Logano on tracknaturalKy. Busch
PoconoKenseth inherited the lead when Ky. Busch out of fuelincidentalKy. Busch
Watkins GlenLogano inherited the lead when Harvick ran out of fuelincidentalTruex
MichiganKenseth passed Austin Dillon on tracknaturalKenseth
BristolLogano passed Keselowski on tracknaturalLogano
DarlingtonEdwards beat Keselowski out of the pitsoff-trackKeselowski
RichmondKenseth passed Logano on tracknaturalKenseth
ChicagolandHamlin passed Jeff Gordon on tracknaturalHamlin
LoudonKenseth inherited the lead when Harvick ran out of fuelincidentalHarvick
DoverHarvick passed Kenseth on tracknaturalHarvick
CharlotteLogano inherited the lead when Kenseth pittedoff-trackKenseth
KansasLogano spun Kenseth to win the raceincidentalKenseth
TalladegaLogano beat Earnhardt, Jr. on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackEarnhardt, Jr.
MartinsvilleGordon passed A.J. Allmendinger on tracknaturalGordon
TexasJohnson passed Keselowski on tracknaturalJohnson
PhoenixEarnhardt, Jr. beat Harvick on a pit stop exchangeoff-trackJohnson
HomesteadKy. Busch passed Keselowski on tracknaturalKy. Busch

Cumulative wins by type:

DriverTotalNaturalOff-trackIncidentalStrategic Assist
J. Gordon935917116
Ky. Busch3416945
Ku. Busch2713644
Earnhardt, Jr.2610475
J. Burton2111451
B. Labonte218463
T. Labonte126330
G. Bodine117301
D. Waltrip53200
W. Burton51120
M. Waltrip43100
R. Gordon30111
B. Bodine10010

NASCAR Sprint Cup Terminal Natural Leaders for 2015

Ky. Busch55
Earnhardt, Jr.33
Ku. Busch02

IMSA 2015

Since this column is already running long and since IMSA has four classes, for this I'm going to create a simplified table for the Tudor United SportsCar Championship. Since sport car teams have multiple drivers, I reward the natural win to the driver who actually made the pass, and do not give every teammate credit for the winning pass. Since in many of the shorter races there are no passes outside the pits at all, if this happens I evaluate the terminal natural leader as the polesitter (which means whichever of the drivers on the team qualified the car that started first). Below I list the terminal natural leader for each class for each race with (N) following that driver's name if the win was a natural win. In most other cases, the terminal natural leader did not win the race, with the exception of Mario Farnbacher at Sebring and Renger van der Zande at Watkins Glen as indicated above. Since I have only done this for IMSA for this season (and don't know how much further back I can go since there isn't a whole lot of lap leader data available for most sports car series nor data indicating which driver was in the car on each lap nor lap times prior to about 2010 or so), I do not attempt to include historical data as I did with the other three series that are better archived. There are few major surprises in Prototype, as everybody watching knows that João Barbosa, Jordan Taylor, Dane Cameron, and Joey Hand are the standouts in Prototype among the regulars. While Colin Braun and Renger van der Zande not surprisingly were two of the few natural winners in the Prototype Challenge class, Chris Cumming and especially Andrew Palmer, are being undervalued at the moment. Palmer besides three wins in ALL THREE of the most prestigious races (in two of which he made the natural pass) and one second place finish in the PC class in only 4 starts, also won internationally, winning the season opening Blancpain Endurance Series race at Monza, making him quite possibly the most underrated sports car driver in the world today, or in the US at least. Unquestionably however Nick Tandy was the best sports car driver in the world this year, and some of the proof is here. He won more races in IMSA than anyone else this year (4) and more races naturally than anyone else this year (3), and only did not win the Austin race naturally because he and teammate Patrick Pilet led the entire race except for pit stop exchanges and Pilet happened to win the pole (to be fair Tandy was also credited for natural wins at Mosport and VIR when he won the pole and they were never passed on track...total domination from those two). The GTD class seems to have been overall the most exciting because five races were decided by natural on-track passes (and in none of them did the polesitter lead the whole way)...nobody particularly stood out here though because it was five different drivers scoring the natural wins.

DaytonaMax AngelelliColin BraunKuno Wittmer (N)Bruno Spengler
SebringJoão Barbosa (N)Andrew Palmer (N)Mario FarnbacherWolf Henzler
Long BeachJordan Taylor (N)Dirk Werner (N)
Laguna SecaJordan TaylorChris Cumming (N)Patrick Lindsey (N)John Edwards (N)
DetroitDane Cameron (N)Renger van der Zande (N)Dion von Moltke
Watkins GlenJoão BarbosaRenger van der ZandeMarc GoossensTommy Milner
MosportChristian FittipaldiJames FrenchNick Tandy (N)
Lime RockStephen SimpsonDion von Moltke
Road AmericaMichael ValianteChris CummingPatrick LindseyEarl Bamber
VIRBill Sweedler (N)Nick Tandy (N)
AustinJoey Hand (N)Colin Braun (N)Jeroen Bleekemolen (N)Patrick Pilet
Road AtlantaRichard WestbrookAndrew Palmer (N)Spencer Pumpelly (N)Nick Tandy (N)

Natural Win/Loss Records

Finally in concluding this column, I provide one additional treat that I had mostly finished around the same time I completed my original 'How the Races Were Won' columns but am finally getting around to sharing now. Using my original 'How the Races Were Won' data, I calculated each driver's record in the final lead change of the race (how many times each driver won and lost in the races decided by natural wins, or how many times each driver made the winning pass and how many times each driver was passed by the winner). Although I largely did this months ago as I said (so it does not consider any of my new ideas addressed in this column, such as terminal natural leaders, therefore it only counts races where the final pass of the race was natural so many races are excluded), it still provides an interesting and different perspective on drivers' careers in and of itself. I certainly could adjust it to consider races where the final natural pass was much earlier in the race, but I think most people are primarily more interested in clutchness at the end of the race anyway, so I am going to start with these lists, which are complete through 2015. One note to bear in mind: if a driver was credited with making a 3-wide pass (passing the cars in 1st and 2nd at the same time), both drivers get a 1 in the loss column, so this means the IndyCar and NASCAR win and loss lists will not quite add up to the same totals. However, not all natural wins are included here either because there are many natural wins in F1 and to a much lesser degree IndyCar where there are no on-track passes for the lead in a race therefore nobody made a winning pass and there was no 'natural loser'. That doesn't mean these aren't impressive wins, but on a list that is intended to measure on-track dueling as this is, I prefer to look at it this way.

Formula One Natural Win/Loss Records

Since many races are flag-to-flag decisions in Formula One and since if many if not most fluke winners do not actually make a pass for the win (or are ever passed for the win) in a race there are several winners who are not even on this list, and it's not precisely clear what this measures. With Mansell and Prost topping the list among the major winners in natural winning percentage and Alonso below half, it is possible this is just a proxy for equipment strength, but I think the starkness of some of the teammate vs. teammate comparisons definitely indicate that this proves something. Having said that, Formula One's less crapshoot nature means that a greater percentage of the wins are deserved than in many other racing championships, and very little here is surprising, for the puny percentage of Kimi Räikkönen, who has only won five of his 20 races via an on-track pass (although this is actually a higher percentage than his Ferrari predecessor Michael Schumacher (22/91), whose natural winning percentage was still very good anyway). It is surprising that two of the recent drivers cited as among the best ever, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost are below .500 here, but I think it largely really comes down to equipment here, as I believe most of the times Senna was passed was in 1993 when Prost was in the dominant Williams and Senna was in the weaker McLaren, just like most of the times Alonso was passed were probably when his cars weren't as fast as the McLarens and Red Bulls. As this year's F1 standings prove, where the top ten in points were comprised of five different teams consecutively, it's clear that equipment is everything in F1 and therefore this is again less interesting and revealing than the IndyCar and NASCAR lists are, but still comparing teammates to each other is meaningful, as Massa's record relative to Schumacher, Räikkönen, and Alonso, Button's record relative to Hamilton, Barrichello's record relative to Schumacher, Rosberg's record relative to Hamilton, and so on prove. The most interesting result may be that despite Mika Häkkinen seemingly having a significantly better record than his principal teammate David Coulthard, their records are exactly the same here, but admittedly, Häkkinen had 12 natural wins to Coulthard's 7 natural wins, so clearly Häkkinen was better at controlling a win start-to-finish, which is a very important strength in Formula One obviously, but they were merely equivalent at dueling within a race when they had to.

DriverTimes in Final PassNatural WinsNatural LossesNatural Win %
M. Schumacher221390.590909091
R. Schumacher1101
Piquet, Jr.1010

IndyCar Natural Win/Loss Records

The main thing of interest here is how most of the biggest winners had below-average natural winning percentages. Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gil de Ferran, Justin Wilson, Bobby Rahal, and Jimmy Vasser all were passed more times than they passed others. This is surprising to me considering their overall success and periods of dominance. It's hard to say any of those drivers really had inferior equipment in their primes either (except for Wilson who sadly never got the quality of ride he deserved for an extended period or even an entire season). With the exception of Montoya and Zanardi, who had much higher natural winning percentages than anybody else (which I think can be largely attributed to the strength of the Ganassi team in the late '90s relative to all other teams), most of the more legendary drivers were passed on track more than they passed others. Initially I speculate that perhaps many of these drivers may have primarily points raced and focused on consistency but this doesn't make a lot of sense when you consider that Michael Andretti and Paul Tracy, the top two winners, both lost more than they won and were both associated with domination, aggression, wild driving styles, and never points racing, nor when you consider that IndyCar, unlike NASCAR, has always provided proper incentives for fighting for the win. Perhaps the real explanation for this is that I am excluding races led essentially flag-to-flag, and many of the most dominant drivers had several of these, so in the races where they weren't dominating, they were more likely to be in doubt and would lose. Regardless, very few of the real legends (except for de Ferran and Rahal) had weak percentages in this regard. Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, and Arie Luyendyk all managed to be undefeated in final lead changes despite being involved in three or more final passes, an impressive feat. Among drivers with many more wins, Will Power is the clear standout of this era. Despite people considering him a choker for crashing in season finales, no other active driver except Montoya has a better record in this regard, and considering Power spent several years as teammates to Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe and neither are close to him, that speaks for him very well. While many of the true legends have percentages slightly below .500, Castroneves's record is worth noting. Despite winning 29 times, he has only ever taken the lead on track six times, while he has been passed 16 times. No other star driver has a percentage nearly this bad. While it's understandable for drivers to be passed more than they pass others if they are in inferior equipment, Castroneves has been in Penske equipment (which has been as strong or stronger than anything else almost every season) for 16 years now, longer than even Rick Mears or Rusty Wallace spent with Penske now, yet he has not won a championship while watching three of his teammates win one (and a fourth in Montoya nearly doing so before narrowly choking the title after leading the points for the entire season up until that point). Despite Castroneves's best bud Kanaan having worse equipment than Castroneves on average (especially in the last decade) he has made more passes for the win despite many fewer wins, and he pales versus every other driver considered legendary. He is the ultimate career compiler who looks amazing if you don't look at his stats too carefully (to be fair he did win 4 races naturally in which he was never passed on track, and qualifying is definitely one of his greatest strengths, so he can control a race, but when he has to actually duel or battle for the win he rarely succeeds, as his natural winning percentage is barely ahead of Bryan Herta's, and Herta has the reputation as the least clutch IndyCar driver of the last 25 years as a result of being passed very late at Cleveland in '95, Laguna Seca in '96, and Long Beach in '98. Even at Indianapolis, Castroneves has only made a pass for the win once (2009 versus Scott Dixon) while being passed two times for the win ('03 versus teammate de Ferran and '14 versus Ryan Hunter-Reay), and many would argue a third time (you all know what I'm talking about). A few other things are surprising to note on the list as well. Despite winning the 1995 CART championship and five races, Jacques Villeneuve was never involved in a natural pass for the win (either way). He did win once naturally at Road America but was never passed on track, and in his other four wins, he beat Mauricio Gugelmin out of the pits at Miami, passed Bryan Herta who seemingly had an ignition failure at Cleveland (which I counted as incidental), made a three-wide pass of Al Unser, Jr. and Paul Tracy after they made contact (which again I counted as incidental), and inherited the lead from Scott Goodyear after his penalty in the Indy 500. It is in some ways impressive he got five wins despite none of them involving on-track passes at full-speed, but it's just odd. In the long run, Formula One probably was the better fit for him. Cristiano da Matta despite winning 12 CART races was only involved in one final pass himself, but he did win it in a photo-finish over Max Papis directly preceding a caution flag at the end of the 2001 Fontana race. In da Matta's case, the change in the pit rules to mandatory pit stop intervals in 2002 (the year of his dominance) may have pretty much wrecked passing in CART in general that year as drivers would almost all be on the same pit strategy as each other, so whoever dominated the start of the race would likely continue dominating throughout the race. This is more understandable than Villeneuve not appearing on the list. Still, neither of them come off badly despite having very few on-track passes for the win for a champion.

DriverTimes in Final PassNatural WinsNatural LossesNatural Win %
Mi. Andretti2913160.448275862
Unser, Jr.171070.588235294
E. Fittipaldi12570.416666667
de Ferran12480.333333333
B. Rahal8350.375
B. Lazier6510.833333333
Mario Andretti4040
G. Rahal2110.5
J. Lazier2110.5
C. Fittipaldi2020
Marco Andretti2020
da Matta1101
Foyt IV1010
R. Unser1010

NASCAR Sprint Cup Natural Win/Loss Records

Since almost never are NASCAR races led flag-to-flag (even Jeff Burton's start-to-finish win technically involved a natural pass of Bobby Labonte), the only interest here is how often each driver is passed. As opposed to the IndyCar list, which has a bunch of things that don't make a lot of sense to me, this list generally does. Most of the top drivers of the past 20 years (including Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, and Harvick) have percentages above 60%. Earnhardt does not because he intentionally (despite his reputation) adapted a conservative style in the 1990s (the only decade of his that this covers) after losing the 1989 championship; since in NASCAR winning doesn't help nearly as much as DNFs hurt Earnhardt was smart to use this strategy and I'm not going to fault him for having a sub-.500 percentage here. Rusty Wallace and Kyle Busch's make somewhat less sense since they were aggressive hotheads who never seemed to care about consistency (to be fair to Kyle, he made major headway in this statistic with a 4-0 record, which was way better than anyone else this season). Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Bobby Labonte's sub-.500 percentages make total sense because all those drivers were renowned for consistency and not dueling as hard as others (although Kenseth's recent history may change my mind on this). Although Harvick's winning percentage in final duels was really good, it still trailed Carl Edwards and Johnson. I think Johnson is the driver who deserves the 'Closer' title. I have said quite often that I thought Bobby Labonte was the weakest Cup champion of the modern era (and I really like him too more than most other champions, so I want to make clear that my opinions of drivers as drivers and my opinions of drivers as people can be very different), and that is seriously backed up by this, as only Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Rudd had lower natural winning percentages among major drivers (who can essentially be defined here as drivers with 10+ times appearing in the final pass), and of those, Rudd is the only one anybody attempts to argue as legendary. Davey Allison's 2-5 record (despite having arguably the fastest cars on the circuit) really does not look good (and it really is too bad, because I truly do like Davey more than anyone racing in NASCAR today). I've always felt Ernie Irvan and Davey Allison's reputations should be reversed from what they are, and this is more proof. There is more to whether a driver is a 'choker' or a 'closer' than comparing dominance to win totals as I did in my last article. That article indicated that Bobby Labonte had a higher percentage of wins than his level of dominance (cumulative races led) indicated than any other major winner in NASCAR history, but this one indicates that that was clearly a result of luck. If he was as clutch as that list made him appear, he would have an above .500 record here, like Carl Edwards, who actually *does* appear to be one of the most clutch, as indicated by both lists. Geoff Bodine and Ernie Irvan by contrast made a list as being among the least clutch since they both had fewer wins than they should based on the level of their dominance, but maybe they were both just unlucky, since when they actually had to duel, they were fine, with only Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, Harvick, Hamlin, and Edwards ahead of them among the major drivers at all. Perhaps in Irvan and Bodine's case their desire to fight proved they were better 'racers' than 'drivers' but I admit I still struggle to comprehend this difference at times. Regardless of what my previous article indicated, I do not think a driver can really be considered a choker unless they have more cumulative races led AND are below .500 on this list (like Castroneves on the IndyCar list, or Kyle Busch on the NASCAR lists, although Kyle was an *awesome* closer this year and almost made back his deficits on both lists). This does not apply to Irvan or Bodine despite their reputations.

DriverTimes in Final PassNatural WinsNatural LossesNatural Win %
J. Gordon9459350.627659574
R. Wallace5024260.48
Ky. Busch3316170.484848485
Ku. Busch2413110.541666667
J. Burton2411130.458333333
B. Labonte238150.347826087
Earnhardt, Jr.2110110.476190476
G. Bodine12750.583333333
T. Labonte12660.5
M. Waltrip8350.375
W. Burton7160.142857143
D. Waltrip6330.5
B. Bodine1010
M. Wallace1010
R. Gordon1010
Sean Wrona is the Managing Editor of racermetrics.com, the Webmaster of race-database.com, the winner of the 2010 Ultimate Typing Championship at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, and the ratings compiler and statistician for the Mensa Scrabble-by-Mail SIG. He earned a master's in applied statistics from Cornell University in 2008 and previously digitized several seasons of NBA box scores on basketball-reference.com. You may contact him at sean@racermetrics.com.