Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: Christopher Bell Ends a Bad Luck Streak Dating Back to 2003

Christopher Bell’s win in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 — his first in one of the NASCAR Cup Series’ crown jewels — was overshadowed by the controversial decision by NASCAR to end the race early when there was no rain in the forecast and it had already spent hours trying to dry the track.

NASCAR’s longest race ended 151 laps and 226.5 miles short of the scheduled distance, and everyone was robbed of seeing Kyle Larson charge through the field after his return from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The move was so unpopular with fans that when Bell was first announced as the winner, he was booed.

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But the win appears in the record books all the same, and Bell dominated the laps that were run, as he had an average running position of third and led 90 of the 249 laps.

Bell led the most laps of any driver in the Coke 373.5 (Ty Gibbs was second with 74 and William Byron was third with 49), and there’s extra significance behind that fact.

Because the race marked the first time that a driver who led the most laps won a rain-shortened Cup race since Joe Nemechek at Richmond Raceway in 2003.

2003.

In that 21-year span, there were 23 Cup races that failed to reach the scheduled distance. The driver that led the most laps lost them all.

Of course, the threat of rain throws a curveball into any race. That opens the door for drivers and teams that wouldn’t have a chance to win otherwise, and the dominant car often receives the short end of the stick if they are on the wrong strategy.

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But from the start of the 1998 Cup season to Nemechek’s 2003 Richmond win, there were 14 rain- or darkness-shortened races. In those 14, the drivers who led the most laps went on to win 10 times.

That makes the recently snapped 0-for-23 streak an anomaly, and an absolutely crazy one at that. How did the race go awry for so many dominant cars so many times in a row?

Sometimes, the dominant car faded and wasn’t out front when the rain came. Of the 23 consecutive losses for the drivers who led the most laps, they finished runner-up five times and top 10 13 times. On other occasions, the driver was burned by pit strategy or had a crash/mechanical issue that took them out of contention well before the rain came.

I’ve compiled the 25 rain-shortened Cup races since 2003, complete with the total number of laps run and laps scheduled, the driver who led the most laps, how many they led and where they finished when the race was called.

In the first 11 years of the drought, the driver that led the most finished in the top 15 on all but one occasion. The following segments consist of highlighted races where the driver who led the most was oh-so-close to winning, more than others on this list.

DateTrackLaps Comp.Laps Sch.DriverLaps LedFinish
May 2003Richmond393400Joe Nemechek1561st
May 2003Charlotte276400Matt Kenseth822nd
June 2006Michigan129200Jeff Gordon508th
June 2007Pocono106200Denny Hamlin496th
September 2007Kansas210267Kurt Busch7611th
June 2008Loudon284301Tony Stewart13213th
February 2009Daytona152200Kyle Busch8841st
May 2009Charlotte227400Kyle Busch1736th
June 2009Loudon273301Jimmie Johnson939th
March 2012Fontana129200Kyle Busch802nd
August 2012Pocono98160Jimmie Johnson4414th
July 2014Daytona112160Kurt Busch363rd

2009 Daytona 500: Kyle Busch absolutely dominated the day, leading 88 laps. He was later caught in the Big One on lap 124, finishing 41st. The race was ended by rain less than 30 laps later.

2009 Coca-Cola 600: Once again, Busch dominated the day with 173 laps led in the first 222 circuits. A caution came out for rain that lap, and Busch headed down pit road with the assumption that the race would later resume. It never did, and he finished behind all the cars that stayed out under that final caution.

August 2012, Pocono: With 44 laps led in the first 90 circuits, Jimmie Johnson had the lead for a lap 91 restart with rain in the area. He crashed with half a dozen cars on said go-around, and the race never restarted.

The final 10 years of the drought were much of the same, with plenty of close calls and a few more races where the dominant car crashed out or ran into trouble.

DateTrackLaps Comp.Laps Sch.DriverLaps LedFinish
June 2015Michigan138200Kevin Harvick6329th
November 2015Phoenix219312Kevin Harvick1432nd
August 2016Pocono138160Joey Logano3837th
November 2016Texas293334Joey Logano1782nd
June 2018Michigan133200Kevin Harvick492nd
July 2019Daytona127160Austin Dillon4633rd
May 2020Darlington208228Clint Bowyer7122nd
May 2021COTA5468Joey Logano143rd
July 2021Loudon293301Kevin Harvick666th
October 2021Talladega117188Kevin Harvick168th
July 2023Chicago Street78100Christopher Bell3718th
July 2023Atlanta185260Aric Almirola4618th
May 2024Charlotte249400Christopher Bell901st

November 2015, Phoenix: Going for five straight Cup wins at Phoenix Raceway, Kevin Harvick led 143 of the first 193 laps. A crash on lap 196 brought out the caution in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had cycled ahead of Harvick. It later started to rain under the caution, and the race was soon halted and declared official.

June 2018, Michigan: Harvick led 49 of the 133 laps, and he scored a win in stage two on lap 120. Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer beat him out of the pits under the stage caution, and Harvick spent the four laps after the restart right in Bowyer’s tire tracks, unable to get by when the rain ended it.

After 21 years of trying and 21 years of frustration, the dominant car finally broke the streak and won a rain-shortened race this Sunday.

Hopefully we won’t have another rain-shortened race for quite some time. But when we do, it does beg the question: will the dominant car win in back-to-back races, or will it be the start of another long 0-for streak?

About the author

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Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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kb

Technically yes, but race wise, ah no….A rain called race is always a big asterisk, unless they were dominating the hell out of it, and even then…not cool. What a crappy ending. The booth was tripping over themselves as to why he was deserving but fans DESERVED MORE!

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