âIn order to finish first, a driver must first finish,â is an adage as old as racing.
Optimal speed requires getting right to the line and not stepping over. That necessitates intense concentration, but a driver also has to be patient when it appears he is losing ground to the competition.
And as long as the aero-restricted superspeedways host four races a year, a little luck is required as well.
In 2019, only two drivers managed to keep their cars rolling until they saw the checkered flag. Both were remarkably good values in NASCAR Fantasy games at opposite ends of the salary cap spectrum.
Joey Logano failed to make the Championship 4 by a narrow margin, but that was not because of any DNFs. For the first half of the season, he was almost perfect in regard to completing all of the laps with 22 of the first 24 races. He completed all but one lap in three other events, and lost two laps to crash damage on the wild card Daytona International Speedway.
Loganoâs perfect record of running until the end of races almost came to an end at Dover in the fall Drydene 400 when a crew member apparently left an axle cap off the car. Logano was forced to pit on the pace lap to correct the mistake and ultimately finished 25 laps off the pace, but the team made repairs and he earned a few valuable points with his 34th-place finish. That was one of only five times Logano finished outside the top 20.
Logano finished on the lead lap 29 times, which was fourth-best in the field.
The second driver to complete all the laps was one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. In only his fourth fulltime season, Ty Dillon showed extraordinary maturity in this regard. He had only three accident-effected races for the season and even managed to stay on the lead lap in the Daytona 500 after getting swept into two separate incidents. In fact, he finished sixth.
Dillon finished three laps off the pace in the Coke 600 with a dented car and he was two laps off the pace at Martinsville with damage, but he managed to finish 23rd and 24th respectively. Dillon wasnât perfect; he had 10 results outside the top 25 without any extenuating circumstances. But he was able to keep rolling until the end and that was good for a few positions each weekend.
Denny Hamlin narrowly missed a perfect record of running at the end. The only time he failed to be around for the checkers came in the spring Talladega race when he was wiped out in a Lap 80 crash. His 36th-place finish in that event was his worst showing of the season.
The team put in a lot of work, however, because Hamlin was affected by crash damage nine times during the season. Four of these incidents were sufficient to cause him to fall well off the pace and finish outside the top 20. Hamlin finished most of his races on the lead lap, however, and with 30 such finishes he ranked second in this regard.
Ryan Newman was running at the end of the first 31 races and appeared to be well on his way to a perfect season. What initially appeared to be a fairly minor incident in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas in October sidelined him on Lap 72 and he was not able to go the distance.
Four other drivers were running at the end of 34 of the 36 races. Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman did their best to remain in contention, but they did not quite have the strength to get into the Championship 4.
While Busch was not perfect in regard to DNFs, he held the distinction of being the driver with the most lead lap finishes of 31. With the aid of only two Free Passes during the year, he managed to stay in contact with the leaders â completing all but three laps in one race, two laps in another, and one lap in a third when he was still running at the end.
Kevin Harvick was running on the lead lap in 30 of the 36 races, which tied him with Hamlin as second on this chart. Of equal importance was when he was strongest in this regard. Harvick finish on the lead lap in 16 of the final 17 crunch time races. The only time he failed to do so was because of his clutch failure in Bristol 2. His other two DNFs for the season came early. Harvick failed to see the checkers in the Daytona 500 and the Geico 500 at Talladega. Accidents are occasionally impossible to avoid on the aero-restricted superspeedways.
Largely because of crash damage, Larson was running at the end of only 28 races last year. Fortunately, he was on the lead lap in 25 of those events, which capitalized on his strongest showings. That helped the No. 42 make it all the way to Round of 8 with a shot at the championship.
Bowyer was not quite as lucky. His seven DNFs were spaced throughout the season and kept him from achieving or maintaining momentum. In addition to those failures to finish, he was significantly slowed by damage and finished outside the top 20 on three other occasions.