Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Kyle Busch & the 4-Race Cup Winning Streak

For the 49th time in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history, a driver has won at least three races in a row.

That’s not meant to diminish the accomplishments of Kyle Busch, who is now on a three-race winning streak after pacing the field at Richmond Raceway. Instead, it’s worth pointing out the amount of times in a series that’s been around for seven decades that such a feat has actually happened, that it’s rare but not unprecedented.

Of course, you already knew that, because Kevin Harvick did the same thing earlier this year.

Now, that‘s a little rarer. Through nine races in 2018, two different drivers have gone on three-race tears, something that’s only happened a handful of times in the modern era of NASCAR, most recently in 2015 when both Busch and Joey Logano sported three-race streaks in the second half of the season.

But that’s not why we’re here. In fact, three races in a row isn’t exactly why we’re here, either.

That’s because of those 49 times a driver won at least three races in a row in the Cup Series since its inception, 34 ended after the third race — meaning that if Busch emerges victorious at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, he’d become just the 15th driver to win at least four straight.

You’re probably aware of the longest ever — 10, a mark set by Richard Petty in a summer scorcher from an Aug. 12, 1967, win at Bowman Gray Stadium to his Oct. 1, 1967, triumph at North Wilkesboro Speedway. It remains not even remotely challenged by any other streak and is the centerpiece of his eye-popping 27-win season to win the championship in 1967.

The closest anyone’s been able to come since are half that amount — five straight races apiece. Both occurred in 1971, with Bobby Allison scoring five straight followed by, again, Petty with five more a few races later. Petty even almost made it six; after his five-race streak, he finished runner-up at Bowman Gray — to, guess who, Bobby Allison.

What’s slightly less striking about all three of these marks is that each of them came before NASCAR’s so-called modern era (the latter two coming just a year before, but still). In 1972, the Cup Series shortened the series schedule dramatically from 48 to 31 races. Less races means less chances to rattle off impressive marks like that, not to mention having more drivers compete the full schedules in a season since certain races before then might not include each and every front-runner due to various constraints. Shoot, of the 49 three-or-more-race winning streaks mentioned here, three — Herb Thomas (1951), Billy Wade (1964), Petty (1966) and David Pearson (1973) ended because the driver in question did not run the next sanctioned event.

So, who’s been the best since the modern era of NASCAR began? That’d be an assortment of four-race streaks, the ranks of which Busch will hope to join this weekend.

Cale Yarborough, 1976

Richmond (Sept. 12) – North Wilkesboro (Oct. 3)

Yarborough notched his first of three straight Cup championships in 1976, and a big part of that triumph was four straight wins (and five wins in six races) toward the end of the season. And as with many of these streaks, it ended not because of a wreck or parts failure; instead, he finished second to Donnie Allison at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite leading 81 laps.

Darrell Waltrip, 1981

Martinsville Speedway (Sept. 27) – Rockingham Speedway (Nov. 1)

Like Yarborough’s mark, Waltrip’s was part of a championship season and came toward the end of the circuit for 1981. And again, like Yarborough, it ended up with a runner-up result, losing to Neil Bonnett at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Before Waltrip’s win streak, he was only ahead of Allison by two points in the championship standings. Afterward? 68.

Dale Earnhardt, 1987

Darlington Raceway (March 29) – Martinsville (April 26)

Shocker — another eventual champion. Earnhardt’s streak, however, occurred much earlier in the season, in races five through nine. He also rattled off three straight wins about two-thirds of the way through the same season, cementing his champion status.

Harry Gant, 1991

Darlington (Sept. 1) – Martinsville (Sept. 22)

Call him Mr. September. Gant absolutely ruled September 1991, following up an early-season victory at Talladega with four straight triumphs within the series’ final nine races of the season. He almost made it five in a row, too, starting from the pole at North Wilkesboro the following race and leading 350 of the 400 laps. But all it took was a pass for the lead by Earnhardt with nine laps to go to relegate him to second — and to end the streak entirely.

Bill Elliott, 1992

Rockingham (March 1) – Darlington (March 29)

Somehow, some way, Bill Elliott was not the points leader in Cup after the first five races of 1992, despite winning four of the first five — everything but the Daytona 500. Finishing 27th in the season-opening race will do that to you. However, after the four-race run, Elliott didn’t win again until the season finale at Atlanta — and to boot, he missed out on the season championship to Alan Kulwicki by just 10 points.

Mark Martin, 1993

Watkins Glen International (Aug. 8) – Darlington (Sept. 5)

The only streak of three or more Cup wins in Martin’s long career, it was punctuated by a pair of poles in that span at Watkins Glen and Bristol Motor Speedway. Interestingly enough, the first win of the streak was his first of the season and snapped a drought that dated back to Charlotte the previous October.

Jeff Gordon, 1998

Pocono Raceway (July 26) – Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 16)

When you win 13 races in a 33-event season — 39 percent of the races contested — you’re bound to have a few lights-out streaks during the course of the year. Gordon’s only four-race winning streak came in the dog days of summer and pushed his championship lead to 97 over Martin. He not only won the last two races that year — he also won the season-opening Daytona 500 in 1999.

Jimmie Johnson, 2007

Martinsville (Oct. 21) – ISM Raceway (Nov. 11)

The last four-plus-race winning streak (unless Busch has anything to say about it this weekend) came as Jimmie Johnson wrapped up his second (and second straight) series championship in 2007. He needed it, too; entering Martinsville, he was 68 points behind Gordon. Exiting Phoenix? 86 ahead. It was also the last time anyone won at least three straight races until Busch’s three-race run in mid-2015.

About the author

Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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