DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart can add this to the growing list of reasons why his championship season ranks among the greatest ever: He won the title in the most statistically-competitive season in the 63-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Two major NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition records were broken this past season in average lead changes and leaders per race.
There was an average of 27.1 lead changes per race in 2011, the most in the history of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
Additionally, there was an average of 12.8 leaders per event, also the highest average since the series’ inaugural year of 1949.
For the second consecutive season, the record books were rewritten. The previous record-highs in both statistics were set in 2010, when there were averages of 25.4 lead changes and 11.4 leaders.
In addition, there were 131,989 total green flag passes (an average of 3,666 per race), which is a series-high since NASCAR began tabulating passing numbers in 2005.
From green flag to checkered, races during the 2011 season unfurled in a tight, unpredictable manner. Averaging a margin of victory of 1.321, a record 23 races featured an MOV under one second. That’s the most since the inception of timing and scoring in 1993.
This season welcomed five new drivers to the list of all-time winners — a roster that grew to 182 in 2011. Trevor Bayne was the first, at age 20, becoming the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. Regan Smith (Darlington), David Ragan (Daytona-2), Paul Menard (Indianapolis) and Marcos Ambrose (Watkins Glen) followed as first-time winners. Five first-time winners is the most since 2002.
In all, 18 different drivers visited Victory Lane, the most since 2002 and one short of the all-time record.
All those numbers set the stage for a storybook Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and a stunning finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In a race that featured a track-record 26 lead changes, Stewart made 118 green flag passes. Stewart won for the fifth time in the Chase (another record), outdueling Carl Edwards, who set a record of his own. Edwards, who finished outside the top 10 only once during the Chase, averaged a finish of 4.9 over the final 10 races. That, too, is an all-time Chase best.