- Elite company
Next time someone says, “(Fill in driver here) isn’t even that good — he’s only got one win,” consider this: In nearly 70 years of racing, fewer than 200 drivers have ever won in NASCAR’s top series. Out of the hundreds who have tried, just 186 have reached Victory Lane. 62 of those drivers only have one win. 10 wins or more? Not even 60 can claim that.
Bottom line? Winning at the Cup level is a major accomplishment that very, very few people can claim. Saying a driver isn’t talented because he only has one win is really pretty silly.
A few other win stats to chew on: Junior Johnson has the most wins (50) without a title; 1950 champ Bill Rexford has just one career win. Finally, if current voting trends are an indication, 21 wins is grounds for Hall of Fame induction. If that holds, a large group of not-yet-eligible drivers, including a whopping eight current competitors and four more who retired within the last two years, should be getting that call in the future. That says a lot about the current level of competition.
- Ryan Newman’s winless streak was long, but…
Want proof that wining one big race is enough to get a driver a ride for life, particularly if he’s not especially picky? Look no further than Derrike Cope. Cope, who’s back in action in the Cup Series this year with Premium Motorsports, hasn’t won a race since 1990, when he famously won the Daytona 500 thanks to Dale Earnhardt’s untimely blown tire. Cope was able to make it back to the winner’s circle again later that year, but that was his last trip to Victory Lane. He’s made the elite list of winners, but there are a couple other numbers to consider: Zero of the drivers he raced Sunday at Phoenix had made their Cup debuts when Cope last won. 12 of them hadn’t even been born yet, and Joey Logano was only 11 days old. That’s some serious longevity.
- Kids those days
Speaking of those 12 drivers who hadn’t been born yet when Cope made his debut, the young talent in the sport today is impressive.
But a driver named Tommie Elliott makes most of them look like old geezers. That’s because Elliott made his debut in NASCAR’s top series at just 15 years old. He made the last of his seven starts at the ripe old age of 22. His numbers are actually pretty impressive, with four top 10s in those seven starts—that’s a better than 50% top-10 percentage. A pair of eighth-place runs marked his career best. Elliott, who died in 1989 at the age of 54, recorded career winnings in what’s now the Cup Series of just $950.
NASCAR’s rules on the minimum age requirements have changed, so Elliott’s record isn’t likely to be challenged. But it’s certainly an interesting piece of the sport’s lore.
- The No. 43 is synonymous with wins — and a bunch of other things
Thanks to The King, Richard Petty, the No. 43 is known for its frequent appearances in Victory Lane, though it’s actually not the winningest car number in Cup Series history.
That honor goes to the No. 11.
Still, how about these numbers: in 1,994 races, the No. 43 has completed 527,798 laps in competition, leading 51,946 of them. Thanks to all those wins in all those races, the number has recorded an average finish of 15.7.
Impressive as that may be, that’s actually not the top average. Among car numbers with over a thousand starts, the top average finish is 14.1, held by the Nos. 11 and 48. Only the Nos. 43 and 11 have raced over half a million laps on the doors of Cup race cars.
The first time a No. 43 car ran a Cup race was at Langhorne Speedway in 1949, finishing 42nd out of 45 cars with driver Jack Russell. Lee Petty was the first driver to win in a No. 43 car; Aric Almirola is the most recent.
- One of these things is not like the others
Expecting to see one of this year’s Rookie of the Year candidates in Victory Lane on a regular basis? It’s certainly possible, but the numbers don’t favor it happening. Chris Buescher was the last driver to wear rookie stripes in the winner’s circle, but multiple wins are another matter. Just seven rookie drivers have more than one win in their rookie years. Winning rookie honors has laid the groundwork for the title; six drivers have won rookie titles and later Cup titles in the modern era, including Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.
Rookie of the Year points are calculated differently than championship points, but one last interesting item here. The record for wins by a rookie driver is three, shared by Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was also the first rookie in history to hold the point lead, as he briefly did in the fall of 2002. What’s surprising here is that Johnson did not win the Rookie of the Year award, which went to Ryan Newman on the strength of his record number of top-five finishes. Only one other driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., won multiple times as a rookie in 2000 and did not win the award. It went, instead, to Matt Kenseth.
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