Going By the Numbers · Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday June 11, 2013
Jeb Burton became the Camping World Truck Series’ second first-time winner of the 2013 season last Friday (June 7), coming out on top at the Winstar World Casino 400K at Texas Motor Speedway, joining Kyle Larson.
Burton and Larson. That’s it. That’s all. Two first-time winners all season not just in the Truck Series, but in NASCAR’s national series as a whole.
When it comes to the pool of first-time winners, NASCAR is off to its worst start since 1993, when it took until June 26 for either of the top series to find a new victor.
In 1993, new winners weren’t plentiful. The Winston Cup Series was dominated solely by drivers who had won before, with Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and eventual champion Dale Earnhardt winning 21 of the season’s 30 races. The Busch Series was better for new guys, with four new faces in the series’ victory lane. Three of them — Hermie Sadler, Johnny Rumley and Tracy Leslie — were new to NASCAR’s winner’s circle in general. The fourth, Bill Elliott, was a first-timer in the series, though he’d already won his share of Cup races.
On June 26, Elliott won his only Busch race, pacing the field at Watkins Glen in the season’s 13th race. From then on, first-time winners were not only more common — they also started happening earlier in the season.
In fact, 2012 marked one of the best seasons for new winners in recent memory. Though the Sprint Cup Series produced zero first-timers, the Nationwide Series had four, with the Camping World Truck Series adding nine for a total of 13.
But in 2013, Jeb Burton and Kyle Larson remain the only new winners in any series, and it took until June to do so.
When it’s June and you’re only just getting your second first-time winner, something’s amiss.
Starting in 1995, NASCAR had three national series from which to choose, with the addition of the Truck Series circuit. Not counting 1995, during which all winners would obviously have been first-time winners, the presently-named Camping World Truck Series has produced an abundance of new victors, including 2012’s nine-driver explosion of first-timers. With more races from which a new winner could emerge, it’s more likely the first of the year could hit early in the season.
But there’s also the problem of what were once called Buschwhackers, before the Busch Series became the Nationwide Series. Since around 2006, bigger-name drivers racing in the lower series have become fairly commonplace, though 2011-2012 marked nice off-years, thanks partly to implementing the rule that drivers could only declare for points in one series. This year has been a tough year in the Nationwide Series especially, with Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and more scoring most of the victories.
That’s not all, though. A lack of turnover, especially in the Cup Series, also plagues the cause of first-time winners, as the pool of winless racers shrinks without anyone to refill it. Cup got a few spots back with the rookie race between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but in recent years especially, new drivers have been lacking. While 2011 was a great year for first-time Cup winners, it also depleted the pool even further.
However, should there be apprehension just yet? Even if the roster of first-time winners is off to its slowest start since 1993, does that mean things won’t change?
It’s hard to say at this point, but chances are this will be one of the worst years for new winners in a long time.
The Nationwide Series especially will likely not change. Kyle Busch isn’t going to back off of his schedule, and any future rules protecting from Cup drivers coming down and dominating wouldn’t go into effect until next year. There’s no reason to believe he won’t continue his winning ways, unless he decides personally to cut his schedule or is sidelined due to another issue.
The Cup Series really only has Stenhouse and Patrick as potential first-time winners (Patrick to a lesser extent), unless an underfunded driver like Dave Blaney or David Stremme can sneak in a restrictor plate victory.
The Truck Series is the last bastion of possibility, but there’s only so many races left in which to do it, and only so many potential first-timers. Chase Elliott and Erik Jones are major possibilities, but their season schedules are minimal. There’s Darrell Wallace Jr. and Miguel Paludo, but they’re really the only drivers with major teams that haven’t won already. Unless a talented young gun, like Ryan Blaney last season, joins up mid-season to start contending for victories, there’s not much opportunity. Even the Truck Series is struggling.
Stay tuned, but if you’re looking for the warm feeling one gets when a first-time winner pulls into victory lane, Larson and Burton might be it for you. At least there’s YouTube.
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