Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday September 24, 2013
Prior to 2013, when was the last time four different drivers won for the same team in one season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series?
If your thoughts immediately raced toward 2008, you’re correct. During that season, four racers piloted Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 to victory, including Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.
This year, Penske Racing’s No. 22 has matched that feat. Following last weekend’s Kentucky 300, Ryan Blaney joined Brad Keselowski, Logano and AJ Allmendinger as victors in the car in 2013. Four winners in a single car ties the record set in 2008. In fact, no other team has come close any other year; every other instance of multiple drivers winning in one car occurred with just two drivers per team.
Now, another question: has this always been a thing in the series, for multiple drivers to win in the same car over the course of a season?
That’ll require more of a history buff — or someone who’s been following the series since day one. In this case, the answer is ‘no.’ It hasn’t always been this way. The fact that it happens so prevalently now is yet another sign of changing times in the Nationwide Series since its modern-day inception as the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series in 1982.
The series is now in its 32nd season, and of those 32 years, a single team has won with two or more drivers in 15 of them. Nine of those years — well over half — are in the last 10 seasons. In fact, before 2000, it only happened five times total.
It began in 1985. At the season-opening Goody’s 300 at Daytona, Geoff Bodine drove a Rick Hendrick-owned No. 5 to victory lane. Four races later, Geoff’s brother Brett also won in the same car. Another team, Darrell Waltrip’s No. 17, accomplished the feat that year as well, with Waltrip and Terry Labonte both winning in the car.
But for about 10 years after, seeing a car win with two different drivers was a rarity. It happened again with Waltrip’s team in 1988, with Darrell and brother Michael scoring victories. The series then went through an eight-year gap before Steve Grissom and Greg Sacks piloted Gary Bechtel’s No. 29 into victory lane. After that, the only team to do it? Joe Nemechek’s Nemco Motorsports during Ron Fellows’ road course reign in 1998, 2000 and 2001, during which Fellows and Nemechek won races in the No. 87.
Those were different times then. A car wasn’t shared as much by multiple drivers back in the day. Race winners were often full-time drivers gunning for the championship, so of course no one else was going to race their car to victory. Giant teams that employed a vast array of drivers throughout the season weren’t as common, and those that did do so weren’t always very competitive. There is, after all, oftentimes something to be said for familiarity.
Things have changed in recent years. Teams like Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing have shuffled drivers in and out of cars, sometimes fielding a team that’s specifically for its Cup drivers and maybe an up-and-comer here and there. It’s like an all-star team, with multiple top-notch racers sharing driving duties.
In 2008, it happened more than it ever has before. Gibbs’ No. 20 was a strong force, as was the organization’s sister car, the No. 18. Busch and Hamlin drove that car to victory lane that year, mirroring their results in the No. 20. JR Motorsports’ No. 5 team added its hat to the ring, with Mark Martin and Fellows both claiming wins. Three different cars earned the distinction again in 2011, with Roush’s No. 16 (Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne), Gibbs’ No. 20 (Logano, Hamlin) and Penske’s No. 22 (Keselowski, Kurt Busch).
More recently, the fact that multiple racers have won in the same car reflects the ideology of many top Nationwide teams these days: win the owners’ championship. That’s the goal of Penske’s No. 22, while Sam Hornish Jr. guns for the series title. The same is true of Gibbs’ No. 54, though it’s mostly relied on Kyle Busch for its title hopes, with Owen Kelly, Joey Coulter and Drew Herring splitting the ride on a fairly inconsistent basis. Though the team hasn’t had quite the season they’d hope for in the owners’ title chase, Richard Childress’ No. 33 is the only other team with wins by two different drivers this year, with Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick winning.
Because of this trend, it’s possible we could continue seeing this happen in the series for years to come. As long as some of the series’ elite decide to field cars piloted predominantly by Cup regulars not running for a drivers’ title — and as long as said teams are competitive, of course.
One last question: could Penske Racing break the series record with five different drivers winning in the No. 22 car this season?
Unlikely, since all of Penske’s Cup drivers, plus its top prospects, have already won for the team in 2013. But hey, don’t count out it happening in the future.
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