The offseason is finally upon us; but as they say, there is no rest for the weary. It’s been a blast talking with so many of you during my second season with Frontstretch, so keep those questions coming and we’ll publish a few Fanning the Flames columns during the circuit’s downtime. Besides, some of the juiciest stuff happens away from the track, right?
Now, let’s finish this season off with a smattering of questions.
The only ruling by NASCAR that is consistent is in the inconsistency of said rulings.
Q: What season in the modern era has had the fewest number of different winners (in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series)? And how does that compare to the 2008 season? – Mark Amende
A: Obviously, a reader who knows of my stats infatuation. Thanks for one last exploratory trip through racing-reference, Mark.
The fewest winners in one season in the modern era came in 1974. That year, five drivers (Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Earl Ross and Cale Yarborough) won all of the 30 races. In fact, Ross’s lone win (at Martinsville, the last for a foreign-born driver until Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007) means that basically Allison, Pearson, Petty and Yarborough skunked the field.
The most winners in one season in the modern era came in 2002, the second year after the schedule had expanded to 36 events. 18 drivers visited victory lane that season, with Kenseth of all people leading the series with five wins. Tony Stewart eventually won the title over Mark Martin in a race that went down to Homestead in November.
As for 2008 itself, we had 12 different winners, down from 16 in ’07 and well off 2002’s mark, Mark.
Some interesting trends were evident when I compiled the seasonal stats. Only once from 1972–1982 was there a season with double-digit winners (1980–10). And from 1983–2008 there has been but one season in which we had less than 10 winners (1985–nine).
Finally, in the first five years of the modern era (1972–1976), Petty, Pearson, Allison and Yarborough combined to win an astounding 120 of 148 races. That’s over 80%, folks. So, the next time you find yourself complaining about competitiveness…
Q: Soon-to-be 50-year-old veteran Martin has signed on to run a full Cup schedule for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. What are the odds the old-school legend wins it all before retiring? I’ll give him a 10% chance. – Dale Petty
A: Based on Martin’s track record, I’d say the odds of him coming up a handful of points shy are pretty good. He lost it because of a NASCAR penalty in 1990 to Dale Earnhardt by 26 points; came up short to Stewart in 2002 by a mere 38; and finished in the top three in points an additional six times. How he’s managed to continue, I don’t know.
But I think Martin has a pretty good look at it this time. He’s managed to notch 11 top 10s in each of the last two seasons in DEI equipment (and let’s be honest, he should have two wins – NASCAR screwed him out of the 500 and his crew chief screwed him out of Phoenix). So make no mistake, this soon-to-be 50-year-old can still get the job done – especially in Hendrick equipment – and he knows it.
“It just was an opportunity that I absolutely could not… I just couldn’t let it go by,” Martin said upon taking the ride. “I told Arlene when we talked about this that I’m pretty sure the last breath I took on my deathbed would be, ‘I should have drove Rick’s car when I had the chance.’”
Rick Hendrick knows it, too, which is why this won’t be some slapped together R&D effort – regardless of the performance we’ve seen out of the No. 5 car in recent years.
“It’s a legitimate shot at a championship,” Hendrick says. “He’s finished second four times, and I’d love to see him have an opportunity to get one. That’s what Junior wants to do, Jimmie wants to do, Jeff wants to do. If you’ve got four legitimate shots at it, hopefully one of them can get it.”
I see Martin easily making the Chase and giving it a solid run to Homestead. Of course, he’ll most likely lose the title by three points or something, but it sure would be nice to see him get the big hardware.
Q: Besides prima donna Joey Logano – who Gibbs is trying to force-feed the 2009 Rookie of the Year award by sandbagging his 2008 schedule and making him the new No. 20 successor to Stewart – who else should we keep our eyes on? I know Danica Patrick isn’t sitting on the pole at the Cup level yet; has the IRL import craze died down? Are there any Busch-leaguers swerving to the big leagues? Or legacies inheriting a silver spoon ride? Who’s new? – Rowdy Rush
A: Prima donna? Wow, I can always count on Rowdy here to call it like he sees it – and to go out with a BANG. Well, the first name that comes to mind is Scott Speed, who I’m sure will give Logano a run for his money. And although Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola participated in too many events in 2008 to retain their rookie status, they’ll be lumped into the same boat, I’m sure.
Otherwise, Chad McCumbee is the only other ROTY candidate I see, and who knows what the true plans are for Petty Enterprises’ No. 45 (now No. 44). Brad Keselowski may do some spot duty for HMS, but he won’t run any real amount of Cup races until 2010. And as for the open-wheel imports, well, that “experiment” is in the process of dying a slow and sordid death thanks to the stunningly bad performances of Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, Sam Hornish Jr. and Patrick Carpentier. Montoya and Allmendinger will continue to lead that charge in 2009 – although, Hornish and Carpentier aren’t done trying to prove themselves just yet.
That’s all she wrote, folks. Enjoy the food, enjoy the family, and enjoy the fellowship of the next month.