- Trevor Bayne, Daytona 500, Wood Brothers Racing
Blaney is the second driver in the last six years to get his first win driving one of the most iconic cars in the history of the sport. The other was Trevor Bayne, who had just turned 20 years old when he capitalized on a late-race mistake by David Ragan to take the checkers for the first time in the Great American Race, just the seventh driver in history to do so.
2. Regan Smith, Southern 500, Furniture Row Racing
Furniture Row Racing is now one of the elite teams in the Cup Series, but in 2011, the team was struggling to rise through the ranks, running part time until 2010 with a series of journeyman drivers. Though at the time no longer run on its traditional Labor Day weekend date, the race was still one of the most prestigious and difficult in the series. Smith and his team gambled late in the race, staying out on old tires while the field pitted for fresh rubber and fuel, and held off Carl Edwards for the win.
3. David Ragan, Coke Zero 400, Roush Fenway Racing
Ragan made a mistake on the final restart of the Daytona 500 earlier in the year, jumping the start, but he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. When the series returned to Daytona in July, Ragan picked up where he’d left off, ran another strong race amid the carnage of a pair of multi-car crashes, and led the field when the final yellow flag flew on the last lap.
4. Marcos Ambrose, Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, Richard Petty Motorsports
Ambrose, a road course specialist, showed why he was always in the conversation at a road course, and this time, he was still in the conversation at the end. In an attrition-filled event that saw eight different race leaders and 15 fail to finish, Ambrose was in the lead when he needed to be: when the caution came out for a three-car pileup on the final lap. He cruised around to the first of two consecutive wins in the Watkins Glen summer race.
5. Who’s next?
You have to go back six years to find the last time the sport saw so many first-time winners. In 2011, four drivers took home their first Cup trophies. A little perspective on how difficult it is for drivers to win: from 2012 through 2016 just three were able to snag their first career wins.
2017 has been the year of the first-timer in NASCAR. The season hasn’t hit the halfway point yet and three drivers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney, have all visited Victory Lane for the first time in their careers. And there are three or four others who could still break that mark as well before the year is out.
Drivers like Chase Elliott and Erik Jones have both sniffed the front of the field recently, and both drive for teams more than capable of putting them in Victory Lane. Add in Ty Dillon’s stint at the front of the field at Dover and the variable that is plate racing, where a small team could surprise everyone, and you’ve got a plethora of possibilities for more first-time winners this season alone.