Want to win the Sprint Cup championship this season? Don’t win this weekend at Michigan.
That’s right – don’t win. Super counterintuitive, I know. Today’s NASCAR is all about winning. Win to make the Chase. Win to appease sponsors. Win to advance in the Chase. And win to take home the title.
Winning is great, but the June Michigan race has a history of being unkind to championship favorites when all is said and done. Think about this: only seven times since 1969 has the winner of the first (or only, depending on the season) Michigan race gone on to win the championship. Four of those came before 1990, and the fifth came that season.
It’s only happened once since 2000, when Jeff Gordon took home the win and the full-season championship in 2001. The other time? Just two years prior when Dale Jarrett took both. Jarrett is already in the Hall of Fame. Gordon will be one day. The other drivers to join them in this rare feat? Dale Earnhardt (twice), Cale Yarborough (twice) and Richard Petty. That’s the cream of the crop right there.
So if you’re a future Hall-of-Famer, perhaps winning Michigan won’t be a bad thing. But a Hall spot is far from a lock for drivers. And then there’s the Chase.
Since the sport created its playoffs in 2004, there have been six champions. None has won at Michigan during their title year, and only one – Jimmie Johnson – won at Michigan the following year. Taking a closer look at the June winners at Brooklyn over the 12 years shows that only two of the drivers who tasted victory – Johnson and Kurt Busch – have even won a Sprint Cup title.
The rest – Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne – haven’t ever won a title in any Cup season, period. In fact, the average points finish for the 12 winners comes to 7.58, a decent finish but nowhere near championship worthy. It wouldn’t even qualify them for the Final Four historically – both Busch and Johnson actually did miss the finals in the two seasons with eliminations.
Historically, the average points finish for a June race winner is 8.17, and that includes years where the winner didn’t run the whole season and therefore fell lower in points than they would have had they run the whole schedule.
So while a Michigan victory isn’t great for one’s title hopes, it isn’t a bad thing by any means. After all, winning is important and can help teams gain the momentum needed for a run at the title. It just doesn’t bode well for reaching the top. Hamlin won in 2010 and finished second in points, as did Martin the year before. Biffle accomplished the same feat in 2005.
Davey Allison won back-to-back June Michigan races in the early 1990s and finished third in points both years. Rusty Wallace won in 1988, finished second in points and bested that spot by one in 1989, taking the title. Bill Elliott did the opposite, winning the championship in 1988 and taking the Michigan race in 1989 (he ultimately finished sixth in points).
But for every Allison and Martin, there’s a Johnson or an Earnhardt, Jr. Six-Time won the 2013 Cup title and took the 2014 June Michigan race, but finished 11th in points that season. Junior won two such races – 2008 and 2012 – and finished 12th in points each time. Busch finished 11th in points in 2003 after winning at Michigan, and Ernie Irvan took the victory in 1997 but ended the year in 14th.
So who will win this weekend, and will they be able to buck the trend once the checkered flag falls at Homestead? After all, streaks are meant to be broken and history meant to be rewritten. This season has already seen Johnson pass Earnhardt on the all-time wins list and Martin Truex, Jr. set a record for miles led in a race. Given those trends, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the driver holding this weekend’s trophy also holding the Sprint Cup.
Just don’t make any bets on it.
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