Did You Notice? … The degree to which the Big Three have dominated the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series? Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have now won a whopping 16 of 21 races thus far. That’s 76 percent of the total and the trio shows no sign of slowing down.
Just how rare is it for three drivers to dominate in this way? I went through NASCAR’s modern era to determine how often just three drivers won 75 percent or more of all the Cup races. For this current trio to match that pace, they’d have to go 28-for-36.
THREE DRIVERS EARNING 75 PERCENT OF CUP SERIES WINS OR MORE IN A SINGLE SEASON (MODERN ERA)
1974: Richard Petty (10 wins), Cale Yarborough (10), David Pearson (seven) – 90 percent
1972: Bobby Allison (10), Richard Petty (eight), David Pearson (six) – 77.4 percent
1982: Darrell Waltrip (12), Bobby Allison (eight), Cale Yarborough (three) – 76.6 percent
As you can see, it’s a short list, filled with Hall of Famers at their prime. We’re seeing the type of dominance we’ve never seen before in NASCAR’s postseason era – period. Not even the 2008 trio of Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch could win at this clip (they went 24-for-36, 66.7 percent).
Keep in mind this year’s group is doing it in a field where somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 drivers have equipment capable of running up front under the right circumstances. They’re also fighting obstacles like at Pocono last Sunday, where failing post-qualifying inspection put both Busch and Harvick near the back of the field.
For this 2018 trio to keep up their pace, they’ll have to finish the year 12-for-17. There’s a very strong chance of that happening considering just a handful of wild cards remain on the Cup Series schedule. You only have Watkins Glen this weekend and two races (Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL) during the playoffs that appear completely up for grabs.
But each of these three drivers has a strong track record at Watkins Glen; they could easily win there. And even in a worst-case scenario, Busch-Harvick-Truex could get shut out in those three events, sweep the rest and still end up winning over 80 percent of the races.
One should also note the average age of those three drivers: 37.7. They also average 15 years of full-time MENCS experience among them. It’s impossible for you to be even the most casual fan and to not have an opinion on these guys at this point. That limits the future growth of their support.
This trio’s dominance is not the only reason NASCAR ratings and attendance are down this season. But I would argue it’s played a small part. This parity among a select few is not the type NASCAR is looking for.
Did You Notice? … Just how bad GM’s slump has become? Chevrolet has now won just 1-of-21 races this season, shut out since February’s Daytona 500. It’s a stunning fall from grace for a car company that’s won 13 straight NASCAR manufacturer titles from 2003-2015.
But it’s not just that Chevy is losing badly this season, it’s the degree to which it’s not reaching Victory Lane. You have to go way back to 1982 to find the last time this manufacturer did this poorly. That season, Chevy earned just 10 percent of the wins (three) while finishing far behind Buick in the manufacturer’s race. The year before, in 1981, it won just once while Buick again dominated the Cup Series.
But even then, General Motors wasn’t complaining – Buick is simply another division of cars within their company. It was the first two years of NASCAR’s smaller, more compact body style and GM positioned itself well for the 1980s. In fact, from 1976-1991 Chevrolet or Buick won every manufacturer’s title on the Cup Series level.
So you have to go back to 1971, the year before the start of NASCAR’s modern era, for GM to struggle so much. It won just three times out of 48 races while Plymouth, Dodge and Mercury (Ford) ran circles around the competition. There was a good reason for the struggles, too: GM’s factory backing had only recently returned to the sport after ignoring NASCAR for much of the 1960s.
Considering Chevy has the most full-time teams of any manufacturer on the Cup circuit today, going 1-for-21 is even more shocking. While Hendrick Motorsports appears to be showing signs of life, likely joining Kyle Larson in the playoffs, time is running out for them to fix this historic slump.
Did You Notice? … The degree to which failing post-race inspection has affected Cup Series lineups this season? It’s the seventh race, by my count, in which at least one major driver has failed post-qualifying inspection and had to start at the rear of the field or never made it out on track for an attempt.
Auto Club: 13 drivers
Kansas: Six drivers didn’t make an attempt
Coca-Cola 600: Harvick
Chicagoland: Four drivers (including Truex and Denny Hamlin)
Kentucky: Hamlin (among others)
Pocono (July): 13 drivers
That means once every three weeks the story heading into the race is how someone supposedly brought an illegal car to the racetrack. It’s far too common a thread for all sides to tolerate long-term. Add in the (potential) practice of teams coloring their corners black to try and confuse the laser scanners and it gets even weirder.
They’ve got to figure this problem out.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- There are no real road ringers in the MENCS race at Watkins Glen. Boris Said, Scott Pruett and Ron Fellows are long gone and the competition here has not suffered as a result. But to not have these one-time drivers in the show, fighting against Cup regulars? It always feels like there’s something missing. Sure, AJ Allmendinger puts on a show but he’s also out there all 36 races. Just like with the Indy 500 – Coca-Cola 600 double, having them adds another layer of intrigue.
- Condolences to the family and friends of Tom Higgins. Higgins lost his life Tuesday at age 80 after battling ill health following a stroke. Higgins, widely regarded as the first full-time NASCAR reporter covered racing for the Charlotte Observer from 1964-1997. Tributes have poured in all over the country, featuring everyone from NASCAR CEO Brian France to respected ESPN reporter Ryan McGee.
I don’t have a memorable interaction with Higgins; his impact was before my time in the sport. But the ability to cover this great stock car series, the NASCAR journalism corps and even this website would not be possible without what Higgins did for us. Known as a master storyteller, his many tales written through the years at both the Observer and elsewhere speak for themselves. NASCAR lost one of its best people and a role model for a generation of young journalists.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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