Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: ‘Second Place is Just the First Loser’

Dale Earnhardt famously once said, “second place is just the first loser.” Ironically, if this rings true, Earnhardt was the first loser 70 times in his illustrious, seven-championship career. Only four drivers have tallied more career second-place finishes than the Intimidator.

Currently sitting with 45 second-place finishes, Kyle Busch has been largely vocal about his frustration about finishing second too. Busch’s exasperation has produced several memorable soundbites, including “just imagine if all of those seconds were wins,” or more bluntly, “second sucks.”

While Busch and Earnhardt have vented about second place, this past weekend at Kansas, second place was the position to be in for two drivers who are in the midst of the best stretches of their young careers.

After a ridiculous save and extremely aggressive racing, Ross Chastain was looking to catch his breath and cruise home second in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. Chastain cashed in on a victory when the leader’s gas tank ran dry.

Alex Bowman tallied his third career runner-up finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event. Bowman scored his first runner-up finish three races ago. If you math correctly, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has tallied three seconds in a row.

Bowman has had a roller coaster ride of emotions during this three-race stretch, from celebrating the mark at Talladega to sulking in the same finishing position at Kansas two weeks later. Yet, through the history of runners up, there has been no limit of sentiments experienced by the “first loser”:

After the 1959 Daytona 500, runner-up Johnny Beauchamp was fuming… three days after the race was over.

After the 1991 Banquet 300, runner-up Ricky Rudd was enraged after a penalty cost him the win.

After the 1997 Daytona 500, runner-up Terry Labonte celebrated with his teammates in victory lane.

After the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, runner-up Kurt Busch was happily stunned.

After the 2018 Daytona 500, runner-up Bubba Wallace let his emotions have free rein in the media center.

For Bowman, victory has been long awaited with his vast array of emotions. While Bowman’s quest to attain his first career win will have to wait at least another week, the Arizonan set a MENCS record for most consecutive second-place finishes without a win.

While he owns that record with three, Bowman does not own the title of the most seconds without a win. That honor goes to GC Spencer, who tallied seven throughout his career.

While Spencer never found victory lane, Richard Petty, who found victory lane quite often as the winningest driver in NASCAR, holds the record for the most runner-up finishes all time, ahead of 243 others who have finished second in a MENCS event. With 200 wins and 157 second places, to quote Kyle Busch again, “just imagine if all those seconds were wins.”

At second on the all-time win list, David Pearson is tied for second on the career runner-up charts too at 88 seconds with Bobby Allison, who currently also sits tied for fourth on the all-time win list. Jeff Gordon (74) and Earnhardt (70) round out the top five for this dubious honor.

Kevin Harvick leads the category among active drivers with 54, ahead of Jimmie Johnson‘s 46 and Busch’s 45. Brad Keselowski‘s 25 and Kurt Busch‘s 24 round out the current top five.

A total of 21 active MENCS driver have finished second at least once in their career. Only Bowman, Wallace, and Daniel Suarez have yet to find victory lane from that contingent.

For Bowman, it may only be a matter of time or it may never come, but there has to be a “first loser” for there to be a winner.

The complete list of “first losers” is listed below.

Driver Career 2nd Place Finishes
Richard Petty 157
Bobby Allison 88
David Pearson 88
Jeff Gordon 74
Dale Earnhardt 70
Mark Martin 60
Cale Yarborough 59
Darrell Waltrip 58
Buck Baker 56
*Kevin Harvick 54
Lee Petty 48
*Jimmie Johnson 46
*Kyle Busch 45
Tony Stewart 44
Buddy Baker 42
Rusty Wallace 42
Terry Labonte 42
Bobby Isaac 38
Ned Jarrett 38
Harry Gant 35
Jim Paschal 34
Dale Earnhardt Jr 32
Dale Jarrett 32
Benny Parsons 31
Matt Kenseth 30
Ricky Rudd 30
Bill Elliott 29
Bobby Labonte 29
Joe Weatherly 28
Rex White 27
*Brad Keselowski 25
Herb Thomas 25
Jeff Burton 25
Carl Edwards 24
Kasey Kahne 24
*Kurt Busch 24
Marvin Panch 24
*Denny Hamlin 23
Dick Rathman 23
Fireball Roberts 22
Ernie Irvan 21
Fonty Flock 20
*Kyle Larson 20
Dick Hutcherson 19
Jack Smith 19
*Martin Truex Jr 19
Tim Flock 19
Cotton Owens 18
James Hylton 18
Junior Johnson 18
Sterling Marlin 18
*Clint Bowyer 17
Geoff Bodine 17
*Ryan Newman 17
Fred Lorenzen 16
Speedy Thompson 15
Curtis Turner 13
Donnie Allison 13
Jamie McMurray 13
Morgan Shepherd 13
Davey Allison 12
*Joey Logano 12
Neil Bonnett 12
Tim Richmond 12
Alan Kulwicki 11
Darel Dieringer 11
Paul Goldsmith 11
Greg Biffle 10
Jeremy Mayfield 10
Ken Schrader 10
Bob Welborn 9
*Chase Elliott 9
LeeRoy Yarbrough 9
Tiny Lund 9
Charlie Glotzbach 8
Glen Wood 8
Lloyd Dane 8
GC Spencer 7
Lennie Pond 7
Michael Waltrip 7
AJ Foyt 6
Bill Blair 6
Billy Myers 6
Eddie Pagan 6
Tom Pistone 6
Bill Amick 5
Dick Brooks 5
Elmo Langley 5
Gober Sosebee 5
Jim Reed 5
Jimmie Lewallen 5
Kyle Petty 5
Ralph Moody 5
Ward Burton 5
Bob Flock 4
Bobby Johns 4
Dave Marcis 4
Jimmy Spencer 4
Joe Eubanks 4
Johnny Beauchamp 4
Juan Pablo Montoya 4
Neil Castles 4
Ted Musgrave 4
Tommy Irwin 4
Al Keller 3
*Alex Bowman 3
Bobby Hamilton 3
Brett Bodine 3
Brian Vickers 3
Don White 3
Elliott Sadler 3
Frank Mundy 3
Gwyn Staley 3
Hershel McGriff 3
Jimmy Pardue 3
Joe Nemechek 3
Joe Ruttman 3
John Sears 3
Johnny Benson Jr 3
Kenny Wallace 3
Lloyd Moore 3
Possum Jones 3
Robby Gordon 3
*Ryan Blaney 3
Steve Park 3
AJ Allmendinger 2
Bob Ross 2
Bud Moore 2
*Casey Mears 2
Chuck Meekins 2
Clyde Palmer 2
Dave MacDonald 2
David Gilliland 2
David Reutimann 2
Dick Linder 2
Don Noel 2
Donald Thomas 2
*Erik Jones 2
Frankie Schneider 2
Greg Sacks 2
Hut Stricklin 2
Jimmy Massey 2
John Kieper 2
JT Putney 2
Lake Speed 2
Marcos Ambrose 2
Paul Lewis 2
Ralph Earnhardt 2
Rick Mast 2
*Ricky Stenhouse Jr 2
Ron Bouchard 2
Ron Fellows 2
Scotty Cain 2
Sonny Hutchins 2
Wally Dallenbach Jr 2
Allen Adkins 1
Banjo Matthews 1
Bill Hyde 1
Billy Wade 1
Bob Burdick 1
Bob Duell 1
Brian Scott 1
Bucky Sager 1
Buddy Shuman 1
Butch Lindley 1
Cecil Gordon 1
Chad Little 1
Charles Gattalia 1
Chuck Mahoney 1
Clyde Lynn 1
*Daniel Suarez 1
*Darrell Wallace Jr 1
*David Ragan 1
Dell Pearson 1
Derrike Cope 1
Dick Meyer 1
Doug Cox 1
Doug Yates 1
Earl Palmer 1
Earl Ross 1
Ed Samples 1
Eddie Gray 1
Emanuel Zervakis 1
Erick Erickson 1
Fred Harb 1
Friday Hassler 1
Fritz Wilson 1
George Dunn 1
George Seeger 1
Glenn Dunaway 1
Gordon Haines 1
Harold Hardesty 1
Jack Choquette 1
Jack Ingram 1
Jeff Green 1
Jerry Nadeau 1
Jesse James Taylor 1
Jim Fiebelkorn 1
Jim Hurtubise 1
Jim Vandiver 1
JJ Yeley 1
Joe Lee Johnson 1
Joe Millikan 1
Joel Million 1
John Andretti 1
John McGinley 1
Johnny Allen 1
Johnny Mantz 1
Johnny Patterson 1
Ken Rush 1
Larry Frank 1
Larry Thomas 1
LD Ottinger 1
Leonard Tippett 1
Marvin Porter 1
Mel Larson 1
Mike Skinner 1
Mike Wallace 1
Neil Cole 1
Nelson Stacy 1
Parnelli Jones 1
*Paul Menard 1
Pete Hamilton 1
Peter Hamilton 1
Phil Parsons 1
Ramo Stott 1
Ray Elder 1
Ray Erickson 1
Red Byron 1
Red Harvey 1
Rick Wilson 1
Ricky Craven 1
Robert Caswell 1
Robert Pressley 1
Roger McClusky 1
Roy Tyner 1
Scott Pruett 1
Scott Riggs 1
Shorty Rollins 1
Shorty York 1
Stick Elliott 1
Ted Swaim 1
Tommy Moon 1
Whitney Norman 1

*Active MENCS drivers

About the author

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Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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What is Kyle’s 3 series tally for second place finishes? I’d love to see his response when that first reporter approaches and asks the famous question “Kyle, you broke the record for most second place finishes of all time… What’s it like to be the biggest loser in NASCAR history?”

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