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Do DNFs Matter in Modern NASCAR?

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Joshua Lipowski

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In racing, there is no status a driver dreads more than DNF (Did Not Finish). However, it seems that DNF’s have become less and less talked about in NASCAR circles in recent years. Why is that, and do they matter as much as they used to?

How DNFs Effected Drivers in the Old Points System

Under the old Winston Cup points system and even the old Chase format, the finishing position was everything. It was not so much about winning the most races, rather, it was about consistently finishing the highest throughout the season. If a driver received a DNF, that meant a terrible points day along with a terrible finish.

If you finished 37th with a DNF, and the driver you were chasing in points finished 5th, you would lose around 100 points to the driver you were trying to chase. DNFs were killers, and they were often the difference between winning and losing a Championship.

Many Championship-winning drivers would have only 1 or 2 DNFs on their season throughout this era. As a matter of fact, the average amount of DNFs for the final 10 years of the Winston Cup system (2.4) and the 10 years of the Chase system (2.2), were quite low. Is it the same with the current Playoffs system?

How DNFs Effect Drivers in the Playoffs System

In theory, the current Playoff system can both increase the penalty of DNFs while also decreasing them as well. In the regular season, a win gets a driver into the Playoffs, so, a DNF is not the end of the world. The introduction of stage points also complicates how drivers are awarded points during a race.

If they get stage points, then it mitigates the impact of a DNF because they have points to fall back on. However, a poorly timed DNF in the Playoffs can knock a driver out of the Playoffs. Denny Hamlin had a poorly times DNF along with Martin Truex Jr. at Homestead-Miami, and they both sit on the outside looking in of the Championship 4.

Now, do DNFs matter more or less now than they once did? Well, the stats say that since the introduction of the Playoff system as we know it in 2014, Champions have an average of 3.1 DNFs per season. It is an increase, but it is not a major increase. Maybe DNFs are not as impactful as they once were, but they still matter to one contingent of race teams.

The Issue of Underfunded Race Teams

For race teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, and the usual suspects running up front, they prefer drivers that stay out of trouble, but they can live with some DNFs here and there. They know that winning races requires a certain level of aggression and sometimes drivers end up crashing.

It’s a part of racing, but, for underfunded teams, it is a different story. Realistically, they know they are not racing for trophies, they are trying to keep their business afloat. The easiest way to ruin a racing business is to spend money on torn-up race cars.

For those types of race teams, the number one priority is a driver who will keep the car on track. If you are running 25th, it’s ill-advised to go all out for 24th or 23rd because it just does not pay much more. Therefore, they will take a driver who does not wreck race cars over someone who does but may finish slightly better.

Overall, DNFs still matter in modern racing. They may not have entirely the same impact they once did, but they still affect drivers and teams. Maybe they should be more discussed nowadays.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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