Going By the Numbers · Kevin Rutherford · Monday September 30, 2013
Today’s magic number: 16
That, out of 29 races, is the combined amount of wins three different drivers in the Sprint Cup Series have in 2013.
With only seven races left in the season, the top three drivers in points — Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch — have won the lion’s share of Sprint Cup events. Kenseth, the points leader, has seven victories to his credit, while Johnson has won five and Busch four.
That’s the largest number of wins by three different drivers through 29 races in five years. One has to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time the season was dominated by a handful of racers, and two of the players were exactly the same. That season, eventual champion Jimmie Johnson had won five races by the 29th race of the season, while Kyle Busch had scored a victory eight times. Carl Edwards was the other major benefactor, winning six times up to that point. In all, that’s 19 out of 29 races, or 65 percent. This season’s number, by comparison, is 55 percent.
Interestingly, the teams involved then are largely the same teams involved now. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing were the stalwarts in 2013 and in 2008. Only Roush Fenway Racing was added to the equation, back in ’08 with Edwards.
The crazy thing is that in 2008, those three drivers weren’t done after 29 races. By season’s end, Johnson, Busch and Edwards had combined to win 24 of the season’s 36 races — 66 percent, or two-thirds of the total races run. That’s a staggering amount, and a continuing testament to the awesome power of some of these multi-car operations over the smaller organizations.
While this year isn’t looking precisely like 2008 in terms of domination by a select few, it’s the closest the series has been to that distinction since then. Granted, there’s no way to top 2008’s total; eight wins are needed to tie and there are only seven races left to do so. But only four of those seven races need to be won by Kenseth, Johnson or Busch (unless one of the two-win drivers goes on a tear and jumps up the win column further) to reach 20 out of 36, which would be only the second time that’s happened since 2000.
Besides 2008, the second-best tally came in 2007, when Johnson, Jeff Gordon and either Edwards or Tony Stewart, depending on whose three wins you want to use, won 19 of the 36 races run.
If anything, the dominance of Busch and Kenseth especially highlights the crazy run Joe Gibbs Racing has gone on in 2013. Despite struggles on the part of Denny Hamlin, the team’s other two cars have been lights out much of the time, in the hunt to give Gibbs its first championship since 2005. The same can be said for its Nationwide Series effort, where Busch alone has nabbed 10 wins in their No. 54 Toyota. Hendrick Motorsports, meanwhile has been a formidable Cup contender all year, as it has been in the past, and should continue to be for the remainder of the Chase.
Already in 2013, three drivers have combined to win more than the same amount could combine for in 2012 and 2011. The playing field was more level then, as it was even in the early 2000s, when the total number of victories for the top three on the circuit tended to hover around 13 or 14.
This year showcases the growing distance between the sport’s haves and “have nots.” Even this year, former competitive organizations like Penske Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing have struggled to find Victory Lane, making the pool of teams with wins even smaller. That’s a stark change from NASCAR’s past, when a larger variety of owners could break through. While Kenseth’s seven wins don’t come close to the highest win total ever, in a single season, his resurgence has come while Roush, his former employer, lags increasingly behind. Could it be next on the chopping block in terms of wins? This year, they only have three.
Either way, these stats don’t lie: this championship is coming down to three men. So keep an eye on Kenseth, Busch and Johnson as the season winds down. 16 out of 29 races is nothing to scoff at. Given Kenseth’s blistering pace and Johnson’s history in the Chase, you can bet that number will rise.
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