Should some of Richard Petty’s wins be taken away?
Ever since Kyle Busch won NASCAR race number 200, there’s been a slew of talk online comparing this accomplishment to Richard Petty’s 200 Cup Series wins. This column is not going to get into that this week, because it already covered this topic a few weeks ago. Rather, one interesting side note to this story has been a discussion as to whether Richard Petty’s 200 wins should even count.
All of this began when Jeff Gluck’s website ran a guest column where Jason Higgins introduced a new metric: Era-Adjusted Wins. Outside of some examples and outright saying that qualifying races shouldn’t count, Higgins did not do a full breakdown of what’s counted and what isn’t, but it did put Petty’s win record at 116, 23 more than Jeff Gordon in second.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., a man so even-tempered that he calls people he’s mad at “uncouth,” got unusually defensive about Petty’s record on Twitter and on his podcast.
Why does it hurt my heart that the Kings wins are now being debated?
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 15, 2019
It’s not weird. But different. It was a different time. Things change. I lived over 30 years believing the King won 200. Celebrating it along with the rest of the NASCAR world. Hard to wrap my mind around it being a stretch of the truth.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 15, 2019
People have pecked at Richard Petty's 200 wins, saying some came on dirt tracks against small fields and lesser competition. @DaleJr says that's "disgusting. It's insulting." #NASCARAmerica #DJD pic.twitter.com/QPARuy7JBw
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) March 19, 2019
So, should Petty’s 200 Cup wins count? Ultimately, yes. In the latter half of last year, I came up with an idea similar to Higgins’ but ended up abandoning the project for three reasons. The first is that doing something like this is incredibly unfair to drivers from the 1950’s. Back then, the “big” races were mostly limited to just the old Daytona Beach course and the Southern 500. Hall of Fame drivers such as Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, and Lee Petty would have massive bites taken out of their win totals.
The second is that it was hard to decide what should or shouldn’t count. At first, my idea was to only count 200 mile races. Well, if that happens, then a ton of road course races from every era wouldn’t be counted, including all of the Daytona Beach races. But if all road courses are counted, should a 72-mile race between 14 cars in 1958 at a makeshift road course in an airfield count? So at that point, you’d need to cherry-pick results, something a metric shouldn’t really do.
The third and final reason is that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There’s no way to conclusively say who’s the best NASCAR driver of all time, because at the end of the day, the drivers who raced before 1972 (or the Modern Era) generally only cared about winning races, largely ignoring the points championship. That’s something that has absolutely no correlation between eras in other sports; no other sport has a period where a large number of competitors did not care about winning a championship.
So, what could NASCAR do to at least compare recent drivers better?
It’s simple- use the Modern Era parameter more. Instead of overall victories, look at Modern Era victories. Instead of saying Petty has the most top fives of any other driver, say Gordon has the most Modern Era top fives of any driver. It’s factual while also not being indicative of bias against the previous era, nor is it as confusing as taking wins away from drivers simply due to the era they drove in.
You see this in the NFL often, with various records being broken over the course of a season noted as being in the “post-merger era”. This is because, before the NFL merged with the upstart AFL in the 1960’s, it was a 12 team league, usually with just a single playoff game and a haphazard, inconsistent schedule.
NASCAR has a set point in its history where the sport evolved from its humble beginnings into something at least somewhat similar to its current product on the field… er, track. It’s really dumb that both the sanctioning body decides not to use it nor many historians of the sport.
What’s the deal with Hendrick Motorsports?
This season has been a fairly interesting one to watch Hendrick Motorsports and how they’ve been able to perform against their own engine customer cars.
The highest Hendrick driver in points is Chase Elliott in 12th. That’s okay, but consider that the Hendrick powered duo of Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch are eighth and ninth in points respectively. Busch in particular has had a great start to the season, running in the top 10 for seemingly the entire year so far. Meanwhile, Larson has had a quiet start with just two top 10s, but he’s also won a stage and hasn’t finished outside of the top 12 yet.
Compare that to the Hendrick foursome of Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, and William Byron. All four are between 12th and 19th in points, and if we discount Byron’s strong run at Daytona, they’ve only led four laps in five races and have less top 10s combined than Busch (three versus four).
Even the JTG-Daugherty Chevrolets, while not having the results yet, have shown good speed. Not on par with even Hendrick, but certainly enough to where you can blame the engine department. It seems more and more like the problems at Hendrick have absolutely nothing to do with their engines, but rather, something to do with the body or chassis. Martinsville, with aerodynamics not really playing a factor there, will be a good indicator as to if the problem at Hendrick has to do with handling.
Is Martinsville just what the doctor ordered?
It has not been a great start to the season for NASCAR.
Ratings are slightly up, but there have been a multitude of competition problems, the biggest of which is the new rules package leading to worse racing by the week.
But now, this weekend is just what the doctor ordered: Martinsville.
The Martinsville Speedway is the oldest track in NASCAR, being the last original racetrack from the inaugural 1949 Cup season. Fun fact: Martinsville used to be a dirt track, and it was one of the worst on the schedule when it came to dirt just going everywhere. There’s a reason why that famous photo of Red Byron in Victory Lane following the first Martinsville race looks like he just got done working a double shift at a coal mine.
Anyway, after being paved in 1955, the racing at Martinsville has largely been the same regardless of what year and what generation of car is being used. It’s the last reliable track on the schedule when it comes to guaranteeing an exciting race, where maybe even some fists are going to be thrown, and the last place where cars can really be torn to shreds but still able to compete for a win.
Cup has an impressive amount of former Martinsville race winners, 10 in all, but one driver to watch this weekend will be one who isn’t, Martin Truex Jr. Truex has not won since July, but the closest he’s come since came in the fall race at Martinsville last year. The 2017 Cup champion was leading on the final lap before receiving a bump and run from Joey Logano, who won the race and eventually the championship.