Going into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, many knew who the guys to beat were going to be on a week-to-week basis. Some would’ve said defending MENCS champion Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson would be the top three. Others also believed Team Chevrolet would compete for wins week in and week out with Toyota with the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 body, while Ford would struggle with its older body.
However, we have yet to see much of that through the first 13 races of the season.
Instead, we have seen domination between two drivers that we haven’t seen since Richard Petty and David Pearson back in the 1970s. Kevin Harvick and Busch have taken control this season, combining to win nine of the first 13 races (10 of 14 if you include Harvick’s All-Star Race win), which has not been seen very often at all since NASCAR’s modern era began back in 1972. The only other drivers to win this season have been Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Truex and Clint Bowyer.
Let’s compare this to other dominant seasons in the modern era. Jimmie Johnson is the first driver that comes to mind when talking about seasons of dominance. From 2004-2010, Johnson won a total of 47 races. That’s averaging roughly six wins a year. In 2007, he had 10 wins total.
However, his statistics could be comparable to those of Busch. Through the first 10 races of 2007, he picked up four wins, which is what Busch is at right now through 13 races. Harvick is at five, and it has not been since 1997 when a driver has had five wins this soon, that year being Jeff Gordon. In 1976, Pearson won five of the first 13, going on to win 10 races that year. The impressive thing about Pearson was that he did not even run full-time that year and still picked up those wins.
Petty was another driver who piled up similar statistics to Busch and Harvick this season. Petty won six of the first 13 races in 1975 and went on to win 13 total races that year.
The dominance of Petty and Pearson back in that time period is something similar to what we’re seeing now. Every weekend, fans and other drivers knew Petty and Pearson would be the two guys to beat before anyone even showed up at the track. Today, we know Harvick and Busch are going to easily be among the top three cars every week, no matter what the circumstances are. They may not always finish there, as Harvick didn’t this past weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, but they’re definitely contenders every single week.
Here’s another solid comparison, just not happening early in the season as it is now. Last season, Truex was the guy to beat on almost every mile-and-a-half track the series visited. Nobody even came close many weeks to the strength of that team. Even though he only won two races in the first 13, they both came at mile-and-a-half tracks. It wasn’t until the middle of the season when we saw the team heat up and pick up several wins. Once the playoffs rolled around, though, that team never looked back. It won four of the five races on mile-and-a-half tracks, and the only one it didn’t win was at Texas Motor Speedway when Harvick passed him for the win with 10 laps to go and Truex wound up second.
So here’s a question to ponder: how many wins can both Busch and Harvick pick up before the year ends? At the rate they’re going, I can see both getting at least eight or 10. Now, we know Team Chevy is still trying to wrap its brain around the new bodies, and guys like Truex and Larson will most certainly pick up a few wins mid-season, but Harvick and Busch have both been dominant every week. Truex has had one dominant week, and that came at Auto Club Speedway when he picked up his first win of the year. We haven’t seen anybody else dominate a race other than Busch or Harvick, though, not even when Bowyer, Logano or Dillon won.
If Busch and Harvick keep up their domination, is it going to be good or bad for the sport of NASCAR? Will fans continue to stop watching because of the same two drivers dominating each week, or will they be intrigued by the battle between the two? If you’re a fan, you should. These two are so equal right now, and to see them battle for wins every week is entertaining. There are weeks we get different players to challenge either one, but when it comes down to Homestead-Miami Speedway in the championship race in November, it’s fair to predict we’ll be seeing those two race it out.
We saw how entertaining it was with Truex and Busch last year, and given how equal as Busch and Harvick are this season, it can even be better.