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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

NASCAR 101: ‘Second Place is Just the First Loser’

Dale Earnhardt famously once said, “second place is just the first loser.” Ironically, if this rings true, Earnhardt was the first loser 70 times in his illustrious, seven-championship career. Only four drivers have tallied more career second-place finishes than the Intimidator.

Currently sitting with 45 second-place finishes, Kyle Busch has been largely vocal about his frustration about finishing second too. Busch’s exasperation has produced several memorable soundbites, including “just imagine if all of those seconds were wins,” or more bluntly, “second sucks.”

While Busch and Earnhardt have vented about second place, this past weekend at Kansas, second place was the position to be in for two drivers who are in the midst of the best stretches of their young careers.

After a ridiculous save and extremely aggressive racing, Ross Chastain was looking to catch his breath and cruise home second in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. Chastain cashed in on a victory when the leader’s gas tank ran dry.

Alex Bowman tallied his third career runner-up finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event. Bowman scored his first runner-up finish three races ago. If you math correctly, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has tallied three seconds in a row.

Bowman has had a roller coaster ride of emotions during this three-race stretch, from celebrating the mark at Talladega to sulking in the same finishing position at Kansas two weeks later. Yet, through the history of runners up, there has been no limit of sentiments experienced by the “first loser”:

After the 1959 Daytona 500, runner-up Johnny Beauchamp was fuming… three days after the race was over.

After the 1991 Banquet 300, runner-up Ricky Rudd was enraged after a penalty cost him the win.

After the 1997 Daytona 500, runner-up Terry Labonte celebrated with his teammates in victory lane.

After the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, runner-up Kurt Busch was happily stunned.

After the 2018 Daytona 500, runner-up Bubba Wallace let his emotions have free rein in the media center.

For Bowman, victory has been long awaited with his vast array of emotions. While Bowman’s quest to attain his first career win will have to wait at least another week, the Arizonan set a MENCS record for most consecutive second-place finishes without a win.

While he owns that record with three, Bowman does not own the title of the most seconds without a win. That honor goes to GC Spencer, who tallied seven throughout his career.

While Spencer never found victory lane, Richard Petty, who found victory lane quite often as the winningest driver in NASCAR, holds the record for the most runner-up finishes all time, ahead of 243 others who have finished second in a MENCS event. With 200 wins and 157 second places, to quote Kyle Busch again, “just imagine if all those seconds were wins.”

At second on the all-time win list, David Pearson is tied for second on the career runner-up charts too at 88 seconds with Bobby Allison, who currently also sits tied for fourth on the all-time win list. Jeff Gordon (74) and Earnhardt (70) round out the top five for this dubious honor.

Kevin Harvick leads the category among active drivers with 54, ahead of Jimmie Johnson‘s 46 and Busch’s 45. Brad Keselowski‘s 25 and Kurt Busch‘s 24 round out the current top five.

A total of 21 active MENCS driver have finished second at least once in their career. Only Bowman, Wallace, and Daniel Suarez have yet to find victory lane from that contingent.

For Bowman, it may only be a matter of time or it may never come, but there has to be a “first loser” for there to be a winner.

The complete list of “first losers” is listed below.

DriverCareer 2nd Place Finishes
Richard Petty157
Bobby Allison88
David Pearson88
Jeff Gordon74
Dale Earnhardt70
Mark Martin60
Cale Yarborough59
Darrell Waltrip58
Buck Baker56
*Kevin Harvick54
Lee Petty48
*Jimmie Johnson46
*Kyle Busch45
Tony Stewart44
Buddy Baker42
Rusty Wallace42
Terry Labonte42
Bobby Isaac38
Ned Jarrett38
Harry Gant35
Jim Paschal34
Dale Earnhardt Jr32
Dale Jarrett32
Benny Parsons31
Matt Kenseth30
Ricky Rudd30
Bill Elliott29
Bobby Labonte29
Joe Weatherly28
Rex White27
*Brad Keselowski25
Herb Thomas25
Jeff Burton25
Carl Edwards24
Kasey Kahne24
*Kurt Busch24
Marvin Panch24
*Denny Hamlin23
Dick Rathman23
Fireball Roberts22
Ernie Irvan21
Fonty Flock20
*Kyle Larson20
Dick Hutcherson19
Jack Smith19
*Martin Truex Jr19
Tim Flock19
Cotton Owens18
James Hylton18
Junior Johnson18
Sterling Marlin18
*Clint Bowyer17
Geoff Bodine17
*Ryan Newman17
Fred Lorenzen16
Speedy Thompson15
Curtis Turner13
Donnie Allison13
Jamie McMurray13
Morgan Shepherd13
Davey Allison12
*Joey Logano12
Neil Bonnett12
Tim Richmond12
Alan Kulwicki11
Darel Dieringer11
Paul Goldsmith11
Greg Biffle10
Jeremy Mayfield10
Ken Schrader10
Bob Welborn9
*Chase Elliott9
LeeRoy Yarbrough9
Tiny Lund9
Charlie Glotzbach8
Glen Wood8
Lloyd Dane8
GC Spencer7
Lennie Pond7
Michael Waltrip7
AJ Foyt6
Bill Blair6
Billy Myers6
Eddie Pagan6
Tom Pistone6
Bill Amick5
Dick Brooks5
Elmo Langley5
Gober Sosebee5
Jim Reed5
Jimmie Lewallen5
Kyle Petty5
Ralph Moody5
Ward Burton5
Bob Flock4
Bobby Johns4
Dave Marcis4
Jimmy Spencer4
Joe Eubanks4
Johnny Beauchamp4
Juan Pablo Montoya4
Neil Castles4
Ted Musgrave4
Tommy Irwin4
Al Keller3
*Alex Bowman3
Bobby Hamilton3
Brett Bodine3
Brian Vickers3
Don White3
Elliott Sadler3
Frank Mundy3
Gwyn Staley3
Hershel McGriff3
Jimmy Pardue3
Joe Nemechek3
Joe Ruttman3
John Sears3
Johnny Benson Jr3
Kenny Wallace3
Lloyd Moore3
Possum Jones3
Robby Gordon3
*Ryan Blaney3
Steve Park3
AJ Allmendinger2
Bob Ross2
Bud Moore2
*Casey Mears2
Chuck Meekins2
Clyde Palmer2
Dave MacDonald2
David Gilliland2
David Reutimann2
Dick Linder2
Don Noel2
Donald Thomas2
*Erik Jones2
Frankie Schneider2
Greg Sacks2
Hut Stricklin2
Jimmy Massey2
John Kieper2
JT Putney2
Lake Speed2
Marcos Ambrose2
Paul Lewis2
Ralph Earnhardt2
Rick Mast2
*Ricky Stenhouse Jr2
Ron Bouchard2
Ron Fellows2
Scotty Cain2
Sonny Hutchins2
Wally Dallenbach Jr2
Allen Adkins1
Banjo Matthews1
Bill Hyde1
Billy Wade1
Bob Burdick1
Bob Duell1
Brian Scott1
Bucky Sager1
Buddy Shuman1
Butch Lindley1
Cecil Gordon1
Chad Little1
Charles Gattalia1
Chuck Mahoney1
Clyde Lynn1
*Daniel Suarez1
*Darrell Wallace Jr1
*David Ragan1
Dell Pearson1
Derrike Cope1
Dick Meyer1
Doug Cox1
Doug Yates1
Earl Palmer1
Earl Ross1
Ed Samples1
Eddie Gray1
Emanuel Zervakis1
Erick Erickson1
Fred Harb1
Friday Hassler1
Fritz Wilson1
George Dunn1
George Seeger1
Glenn Dunaway1
Gordon Haines1
Harold Hardesty1
Jack Choquette1
Jack Ingram1
Jeff Green1
Jerry Nadeau1
Jesse James Taylor1
Jim Fiebelkorn1
Jim Hurtubise1
Jim Vandiver1
JJ Yeley1
Joe Lee Johnson1
Joe Millikan1
Joel Million1
John Andretti1
John McGinley1
Johnny Allen1
Johnny Mantz1
Johnny Patterson1
Ken Rush1
Larry Frank1
Larry Thomas1
LD Ottinger1
Leonard Tippett1
Marvin Porter1
Mel Larson1
Mike Skinner1
Mike Wallace1
Neil Cole1
Nelson Stacy1
Parnelli Jones1
*Paul Menard1
Pete Hamilton1
Peter Hamilton1
Phil Parsons1
Ramo Stott1
Ray Elder1
Ray Erickson1
Red Byron1
Red Harvey1
Rick Wilson1
Ricky Craven1
Robert Caswell1
Robert Pressley1
Roger McClusky1
Roy Tyner1
Scott Pruett1
Scott Riggs1
Shorty Rollins1
Shorty York1
Stick Elliott1
Ted Swaim1
Tommy Moon1
Whitney Norman1

*Active MENCS drivers

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About Zach Gillispie

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As the youngest member of Frontstretch, Zach joined the team fresh out of high school in the summer of 2018 as a news writer. In addition, he coordinates Frontstretch's industry wide weekly power rankings column. Originally from Charlotte, NC, he resides in western PA with his family. He currently attends Grove City College and is a die-hard fan of the Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter @gillispie_zach

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One comment

  1. Avatar

    What is Kyle’s 3 series tally for second place finishes? I’d love to see his response when that first reporter approaches and asks the famous question “Kyle, you broke the record for most second place finishes of all time… What’s it like to be the biggest loser in NASCAR history?”