Ernest Hemingway once said, "There are but three true sports -- bullfighting, mountain climbing and motor-racing. The rest are merely games." You don't need to have a PhD in literature to realize that danger is the common element of the three "sports" that Hemingway mentions, and for better or worse, danger is a key component to the popularity and appeal of all three.
Of course, the auto racing world recently received two harsh reminders of just how dangerous the sport really is with the deaths of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler at a dirt track in Iowa and Allan Simonsen in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the premier auto racing series, NASCAR has been at the forefront of safety innovations over the years. However, there simply isn't a way to eliminate 100 percent of the danger that exists for everyone at the track as long as drivers are behind the wheels of cars running at high speeds in close quarters.
Quantifying the danger and risk involved when a NASCAR driver gets behind the wheel of a racecar isn't an exact science, but Caitlin Greenwich of AutoInsurance.US recently published an article identifying the five most dangerous tracks in NASCAR based on a variety of factors, including the number of fans and drivers that have been killed or injured. Based on the data, the five tracks identified as the most dangerous were Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Pocono and Martinsville. Daytona tops the list, and the 2.5-mile superspeedway has been the site of 12 driver fatalities.
Courtesy of: AutoInsurance.us
As tricky as it is to determine statistically just how much danger really looms at each track, it can be even harder to figure out how the information applies in fantasy NASCAR leagues. However, some of the data relating specifically to Daytona and Talladega is rather eye-opening. According to the article by Greenwich, the chance of a fan being injured at Daytona is 1/31,000, and at Talladega 1/47,000. After the two superspeedways, Charlotte is next on the list of dangerous tracks, but the risk of fan injury climbs to 1/2 million. In other words, the risk of fan injury is more than 40 times greater at Talladega and more than 60 times greater at Daytona than at any other track on the schedule.
If you stop to think about those numbers for a second, it becomes apparent just how frequently and just how violently drivers are wrecking at the restrictor plate tracks. After all, fan injuries are fairly uncommon in NASCAR, but Daytona and Talladega are in a class by themselves when it comes to potential danger for fans. Needless to say, the risk of injury is also greater for the drivers, and the risk of a driver wrecking in general is also much greater at Daytona and Talladega. Granted, you probably could have guessed that considering cars run bumper to bumper and side by side at speeds that approach 200 mph at these two tracks, but if the risk of a fan being injured is 40 or 60 times more likely, just imagine how much more likely a driver is to wreck at either Daytona or Talladega.
With that knowledge in hand, fantasy owners need to think seriously about how they set their lineups at the plate tracks, especially in any format that limits the number of times each driver can be used. In these leagues, using a big name like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch or Matt Kenseth at a plate track is simply too risky. The quickest way to fall out of contention in leagues with start limits is to pick one of the top drivers in the series only to have them wreck. Essentially, you are wasting a start, and your chances of doing so at Daytona or Talladega is exponentially greater. Plain and simple, fantasy owners need to trot out a sleeper driver whenever it comes time for a trip to a plate track.
It is all about risk versus reward at the superspeedways. Sure, Johnson won the Daytona 500 this year, but he has since gone on to win two more races. Meanwhile, David Ragan won at Talladega, but he hasn't finished better than 20th in his other 15 starts.
The moral of the story is that any driver can wreck at Talladega or Daytona, but almost any driver can win, as well. By opting for sleeper picks at the plate tracks, fantasy owners are not only avoiding their most likely chance to waste a start from one of the heavy hitters, but they are actually maximizing their chance of getting a strong run out of one of NASCAR's lesser-known drivers. It is the smart strategy, and if you didn't buy into it before now, hopefully the data from AutoInsurance.US has helped you buy into it.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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