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NASCAR 101: History Says Kyle Larson Won’t Be the 2023 Champion

As the NASCAR Cup Series heads into the third race weekend of the regular season, there are plenty of heavy hitters who are already making their presence known.

Perennial favorite Joey Logano, points leader Ross Chastain, last week’s victor Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are sitting solidly in the top 10 in points.

This means they are the favorites to win the championship title this season.

Now wait a minute. We’re only two races in and the word championship is already being thrown around? It’s way too early to be doing that. There are plenty of others like Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott who are contenders too.

Well, according to history, they really aren’t.

That’s because drivers who performed well in the first two races of the season overwhelmingly wind up holding the championship trophy at the season’s end versus those who don’t. Sixteen of the last 23 Cup champions held a top 10 points position after the second race of the year.

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That is good news for Logano’s title defense and bad for 2021 champion Larson. After crashing out on the final lap of the Daytona 500 and suffering engine woes at Auto Club Speedway, the California driver sits a distant 24th heading into Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.

Larson is not alone in this predicament, as several other supposed championship threats have stumbled out of the gate. William Byron and Chase Briscoe were playoff drivers last season but currently sit 29th and 33rd, respectively. Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones and Ryan Preece are also near the bottom of the list.

But no driver is in worse shape than Tyler Reddick. He was in the playoffs last year, but right now, you can count the number of points he has on one hand. Two early-race crashes in as many races will do that to you.

So it is no surprise that a driver with just four points is sitting dead last among all points-eligible drivers, including Travis Pastrana, JJ Yeley and Jimmie Johnson, who all have only competed in one race so far this season.

So, what’s the big deal? We’ve got 34 races to go. Larson and Reddick are championship-caliber drivers. Only a few points have been awarded so far. They will get back up to the top in no time. Frankly, at this point in the season, to quote Drew Carey, the points really don’t matter.

Once again, history says they actually do.

Since 2000, the furthest back a champion has been after competing in two races was 22nd, above where all the aforementioned competitors are currently slotted. That instance even has a caveat too, as Tony Stewart would not have been in title contention in 2002 if not for a late-season injury that likely pulled Sterling Marlin (first after the second race of 2002) from the championship podium.

Where does the eventual title holder usually start out his season? In this millennium, the average points position the champion began their campaign was around seventh in points, which should be good news for current seventh-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

And since 2010, no champion driver has come from further back than 12th after two events, which would also put 14th-place Elliott and 15th-place Christopher Bell under the microscope.

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However, there is one giant asterisk.

Like Reddick, Busch was last after two races in his 2015 championship campaign. That’s because he had not even competed in the first pair of events, out injured after a crash in an undercard event before the season.

Yet after missing the first 11 races, Busch took advantage of the playoff system to win a race, receive a postseason berth and march his way to his first ring. Thus, on a technicality, it has been done before. But it is quite rare, as this has been the only instance in the modern era where a driver outside the top 25 has won the championship.

Busch proved it is possible on a caveat, but history overwhelmingly says Larson will have to wait until at least 2024 to claim another title.

About the author

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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I hope no drivers on the Hendrick team win a championship.

Last edited 1 year ago by MikeinAz
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