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
BOWLES: FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM POCONO
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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Men’s tennis has been dominated by three players for over a DECADE and yet tennis fans have not whined about it – they embrace it and call this the “Golden Age” of tennis. But maybe tennis fans are just a bit more sophisticated than NASCAR fans, appreciating excellence at the highest level. When a couple of lower-ranked players had a marathon match in the Wimbledon semi-finals, the grumbling from the crowd was to get the match over with. “We came here to see Rafa!” FS may be dedicated to the proposition that Matt DiBenedetto and A.J. Allmendinger are the saviors of the sport, but to most sports fans, that would be considered an absurd contention.
perhaps that’s why they are tennis fans, not Nascar fans?
Last year in the NCAA tournament UMBC (a 16 seed) beat the number 1 seed in the first round. That made headlines across the sports world and was the talk of the town for several days. The only point is that fans love to see upsets too. Even if they can appreciate excellence. Watching the teams expected to win always win doesn’t really produce excitement amongst fans of the sport (not a particular team). I watch every Cup race every week no matter who wins or how exciting, so it doesn’t matter to me either way but it does to many.
Sure, the occasional upset or Cinderella team win is exciting, but over the long haul, sports fans appreciate excellence, even if they don’t necessarily like the people who are accomplishing it. Tiger Woods, Tom Brady and LeBron James aren’t lovable, but they get respect and attention because they earned it. And why is NASCAR the only sport to have a Most Popular [Participant] award? That’s something most people are over with once they leave high school! Maybe because most NASCAR fans never reached that educational level.
I did some similar stats going back to 1978 (last 40 years). 1 out of every 4 years on average has the top 3 drivers winning 60% or more of the races. In 21 of 40 seasons, the top 3 have won 50% or more of the races.
– On average, the driver with the most wins per season is winning 1 out of 5 races (21.64%). The highest % was Darrell Waltrip winning 40% (12 of 30) races in 1982. Gordon won 39.39% in 1998 (13 of 33).
– Only 6 times has the Champion not been one of the top 3 drivers in the wins column.
– 18 times the driver with the most wins won the Championship. 12 times it was the driver with the 2nd most wins. And only 4 times has the driver with 3rd most wins been Champion. The avg. # of wins for the series Champion is 5.63.
– Jeff Gordon had 5 consecutive years with the most wins (1995 – 1999). 3 of those years he consecutively won 10 or more races – 96-98.
– Darrell Waltrip had 2 consecutive seasons of 12 wins. No driver besides Gordon/Waltrip has won double digits in more than one season since 1978. Yarborough, Earnhardt, Wallace, and Johnson have one season each with 10 or more wins.
– Over this 40 year time period, the avg. # of winners per season is 13.6 (Highest being 20 in 2001, and lowest of 7 in 1978). Interesting, 1978 to 1999, the avg. # of winners per season is 10.95. 2000 to 2017 that avg. is 14.78
– The avg. # of drivers each season with multiple wins is 7.5.
– Prior to the Chase format, the avg. points diff from the Champion to 3rd place is 311. From 1st to 2nd is 146. Based on the old school points, this battle in 2018 is reminiscent of “the good old days”. Only 8 times has the battle between 1st and 2nd been decided by fewer points than where Ky Busch and Harvick sit now, and only 4 of those years has 3rd place been closer to the top 2 than Truex currently is.
I suppose instead of 3 drivers creating a potential historic, competitive battle for the championship, NASCAR fans would rather see more blowouts like the 1978, 1987, 1994, 1998, and 2001 seasons where the second place driver was gapped by more than 300 points? (“Chase” years excluded due to points reset final 10 races).
Personally, I’m tired of the whining about “The Big 3”. Having 3 drivers this far above the field battling for the prize is much more exciting than having 20 teams mired in mediocrity just trying to outlast the group. It’s up to one of these 3 (with time still left for a 4th to step up!) to rise above the challengers and take it! Or, they could all stumble and fall in the knockout format and all will be for naught. Probably to more whining as some “undeserving” driver is crowned with only 1 win (right Matt?)
As for “the young guns:, give them time. We are seeing (again) a great battle of the vets right before the torch is passed. Statistics show it around 85-95 where Earnhardt, Waltrip, and Elliott were dominant (as Petty, Yarborough, Allison gave way). They gradually gave way to Gordon, Martin, and D Jarrett 95-02, who in turn gave way to Stewart, Ku Busch, Johnson, Harvick, Ky Busch and others. Since 2000, the number of winners per season suggest NASCAR has been much more competitive than years prior with more teams scoring wins each season. That makes what these 3 are doing now even more special.
History says we will be seeing C Elliott, Larson, Suarez, Jones, Bowman, Blaney, Byron, etc. make their mark as they come into their prime and the likes of Harvick, Ky Busch, Truex slowly fade. No champion has won forever. The tide will turn. The story will write itself. So sit back and enjoy the racing!
Jeremy, thanks for adding some sanity and a reality check to the weekly whine-fest!
Glad to see others feel the way I do! I’d like to see everyone STOP lamenting about the new guys not winning enough and flip the script – not everyone watching/reading about NASCAR has been watching for 40 years (I picked it up in ’96 myself), so many new fans may not realize the significance of what Harvick, Ky Busch, and Truex have been doing this season. If they keep it up, it could be one for the record books! That is exciting, but instead the story lines are all negative – IMO too much hype trying to pre-write the story (next big thing / young drivers winning).
I don’t agree with a lot of what Brian France has done, but I still like NASCAR and appreciate hard racing (of almost any kind). Sure, I wish a lot of things were different, but with attendance, viewership, and ratings in a decline, they need all the positive news they can get if NASCAR is to survive.
I question whether there are really 25 cars capable of winning right now. Hendricks cars are not, Chip and Co. ditto. RCR no way, Rousch Fenway, please. I think the number is closer to 8
It’s easy to fix the “failing post-qualifying inspection” problem. Fail post-qualifying inspection, you don’t go to the back of the field, you go home. The car is not legal so why let it race? Do that a few times and all the cars will be legal.