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Dr. Diandra: Best drivers of the season often win the All-Star Race

The format and the venue have changed over the years, but the NASCAR All-Star Race remains a welcome chance for drivers to cut loose. There’s nothing on the line but the trophy and the purse.

That’s slightly less true this year. With Texas Motor Speedway hosting only one points race -- the kickoff for the Round of 12 -- the All-Star race weekend is teams’ only opportunity to gather data on the NextGen car’s performance at this track.

“You can certainly look at it for a lot of things,” Austin Cindric told NBC Sports. “It’s an opportunity to win a million dollars. That’s pretty cool for a 23-year-old. At the same time, you can easily use it as a practice session in many facets... I think Texas has kind of defined itself as its own beast, depending on what they do with track prep.”

But even with that caveat, most drivers won’t be able to avoid the ‘checkers-or-wreckers’ mentality.

All-Star Race victory history

Twenty-five drivers have won one or more of the 37 All-Star Races run to date.

  • Jimmie Johnson has driven to the most victories: four. All were with crew chief Chad Knaus on the pit box.
  • Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won ten All-Star Races, including the last two with Kyle Larson (2021) and Chase Elliott (2020). That’s the most wins for any owner.
  • Richard Childress Racing and RFK Racing come in a distant second with four wins each.

    • RCR won last in 2007 with Kevin Harvick (although Harvick won in 2018 for Stewart Haas Racing.)
    • Carl Edwards won in 2011 for the team that is now RFK Racing.

How All-Star Race winners finish the season

The list of All-Star Race winners reads like a who’s who of NASCAR. Let’s examine how drivers did during the season in which they won the All-Star Race.

I tallied end-of-year driver standings for All-Star-Race winners. The pie chart below shows the percentage of drivers ending the season in each position. The chart begins at 12 o’clock and goes counter clockwise.

A pie chart showing where All-Star Race winners end up in the season standings

Some highlights:

  • Almost one-third of All-Star Race winners went on to win the series championship that year. Those drivers are: Jeff Gordon (three times), Dale Earnhardt (three times), Jimmie Johnson (twice), Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip.
  • Almost two-thirds (64.8%) of the drivers who won the All-Star Race finished the season in the top four.
  • 72.9% of the drivers ranked in the top six at season’s end.
  • Once we get past sixth place, we’re looking mostly at single drivers. The exception is 14th place: Two drivers ended the year there.

Can an All-Star win kick-start a season?

The All-Star race usually happens the week before Memorial Day weekend. The exceptions were in 1986 (Atlanta, on Mother’s Day) and in 2019 and 2020, when COVID shifted the race to mid-July and mid-June, respectively. But most years, the All-Star Race comes at the perfect point to evaluate which drivers are on track to meet their goals and which one are lagging behind.

I tallied how many races each winning driver had won coming into the All-Star Race. I then calculated how many races they’d won in the same number of races after the All-Star race. If there were had 13 races prior to the All-Star Race, that means 13 races after the All-Star race.

On the graph below, the drivers are listed in order of year from left (1985) to right (2021).

  • The number of races won before the All-Star Race is shown in blue,
  • The number of races won in an equal number of races after the All-Star Race is shown in yellow,
  • Crosshatched yellow indicates wins made during the rest of the season.

Looking at Kevin Harvick’s 2018 season as an example: Harvick won five races of the 12 run before the All-Star Race. He won two races between Charlotte and Bristol (the 12 races after the All-Star Race) and then one more in the playoffs.

A stacked column chart showing the numbers of races won at various times in the season

  • In 15 cases (40.5%), the All-Star Race was the winner’s first win of the season. You can identify those entries because they’re the ones without any blue bar — or any bar at all.

    • Two of those 15 drivers -- Michael Waltrip (1996) and Jamie McMurray (2014) -- did not win any points races the year they won the All-Star Race.
    • Three of those 15 drivers (Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, and Kyle Larson in 2019) didn’t win another race in the races immediately after the All-Star Race, but won races after that.
  • The winner had only one win coming into the All-Star Race 10 times, which is 27%.
  • That makes 25 out of 37 races (67.6%) where the All-Star Race was won by a driver with one or no point-race wins entering that event.
  • The All-Star Race win was the winner’s last win of the season in six cases. Those entries have only blue bars.

Larson fans concerned that he’s only won one race this season can relax. He was in the same situation last year coming into the All-Star Race. He went on to win nine more races that year -- and the championship.

Chase Elliott’s win in 2020 kicked off a similar streak. The All-Star Race didn’t happen until July 15th, but Elliott had still only won once coming into the race. He, of course, went on to win four more races and the championship.

Total number of wins

Drivers who won the All-Star Race ended the season with anywhere from 0 to 11 wins. Below, I show the number of drivers who accumulated each number of wins.

A vertical bar graph showing the number of total wins All-Star-winning drivers accumulate over the course of the season

  • 94.6% of drivers won at least one points race the year they won the All-Star Race.
  • 43.2% of All-Star Race winners won five or more races during the season.
  • 67.6% of the winners ended the season with between one and five wins.

NASCAR Open winners

How do drivers who get into the All-Star Race by winning the NASCAR Open finish? Because stages are a relatively recent phenomenon, I’ll consider only the overall winners of the Open races and not the stage or segment winners in the graph below.

A vertical bar chart showing the finishes of Open winners in the All-Star Race

Given that the best drivers have mostly already qualified for the All-Star Race, it’s not too surprising that Open winners rarely win the All-Star Race.

  • The only time a driver won the Open and then the All-Star Race was in 2019. That feat was accomplished by Larson. (Although Michael Waltrip transferred into the All-Star Race in 1996, and then won the All-Star Race, he finished the Open in 5th.)
  • Open-winning drivers have come close to winning the All-Star Race. Three drivers have finished second: Sterling Marlin (1988), Tony Stewart (1999) and Martin Truex, Jr. (2010).
  • Since 2011, with the exception of Larson, no winning Open driver has finished better than fifth.
  • Overall, 16.7% of these drivers finished in the top five of the All-Star race.
  • Four of the last seven Open winners finished out of the top 10.

Winning the All-Star Race doesn’t mean you’ll do well the rest of the season. But if all your team needs is a spark, a win might do it. But the All-Star Race is better viewed as a barometer of the current field rather than a predictor of the future.

Got technical or statistical questions you’d like answered? Send them to ask (at) buildingspeed ( dot) org.