(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Frontstretch 5: Unbreakable, But Not Impossible NASCAR Records

What makes a record unbreakable?

An unbreakable record should mean a record that is possible, but won’t ever be logically broken. It would be easy to sit here and write about how nobody will ever break Lee Petty’s mark of 42 dirt track wins in the NASCAR Cup Series. At the same time, however, that’s not fair because there are no dirt track races at the Cup level anymore, making it completely impossible to break.

While the dirt track wins record is unbreakable, that’s not the point of this list. The point is to try and find five records that are still possible to be broken, but never will. It’s like how in the NFL, it’s possible for a team to end a game with a score of one if they can get a one-point safety on a two-point conversion for their only score of the game. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s not likely to ever happen in today’s NFL.

Just to bring some diversity to this list, there is a very strict “No Petty” rule in effect. Richard Petty would deserve his own list, but his father, Lee, would also make a pretty sizable dent if he were allowed. In over 75% of his career starts, the NASCAR Hall of Famer finished inside the top 10. We see drivers hit this mark in a season all the time, but there’s no way that anybody could match that in an entire career.

And of course, with the “No Petty” rule, it also leaves out Kyle Petty’s record for worst fashion sense in NASCAR history. Seriously, just Google “Kyle Petty Hair” and look at how bad every picture is.

1. Ned Jarrett’s 19.25-Mile Margin Of Victory

In 1965, Chrysler decided to pull out of NASCAR for the majority of the season. The 1960s were fraught with constant manufacturer demands and politics. Unlike today, where manufacturers don’t really complain in public that often and instead work closely with NASCAR to design cars that will be fast on the track, the manufacturers of that era just shrugged and stopped dumping money into the sport from time-to-time.

The core of Chrysler’s contention was the Hemi engine being outlawed by NASCAR. NASCAR deemed the Hemi too powerful, and Chrysler took their ball and went home.

Chrysler’s absence and Richard Petty’s short-lived pivot to drag racing, coupled with General Motors not caring about racing at the time, led to a number of unbreakable records for Ford. The Blue Oval won 32 straight races at one point in 1965, quite possibly more unbreakable than any other on this list. It got so bad that NASCAR finally allowed the Hemi midway through the season just to get some kind of excitement.

There was a pretty major clause in NASCAR’s agreement, however. The Hemi was still banned from superspeedways or ovals longer than a mile. This meant that no major Chrysler driver, chief among them Petty or David Pearson, even attempted the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

The lone Plymouth in the Darlington field, Buck Baker, finished second. Impressive considering Baker had little financial backing and was also 46 years old at the time.

The only problem with Baker’s finish? He ended up 14 laps behind race winner and eventual series champion Ned Jarrett.

Before writing this column, I drove home from work. Every afternoon, I spend about 30 minutes on my 18-mile commute home.

The Darlington oval at the time measured at 1.375 miles. 14 laps around that track would be 19.25 miles,, longer than my own commute home every day. That’s how much distance Jarrett put on Baker that hot Labor Day.

This is a record that will never, ever be topped. If a driver won by 20 miles today, even with the rest of the field having the advantages of stage breaks, wave-arounds and free passes, there would not be a victory lane celebration.

What would probably happen is that NASCAR would immediately tell the race winner to drive into the garage, where the sanctioning body would break the entire car down for the next several hours in order to find how out how the team was cheating. There would be burnt grandstands, lawsuits, and 39 other drivers would just generally be very angry.

Three days after this in 1965, however, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs played a baseball game with just one hit between both teams, so I guess people that year really just hated excitement.

2. Tim Flock’s 10 Perfect Races

Most fans, if they are aware of Tim Flock, know of him as the smiling guy who drove with a monkey in the car. Flock only drove with “Jocko Flocko” in eight recorded races, and his one win with the monkey created an unbreakable record of having the most victories with an animal riding in the race car.

Looking away from the smiling face and the monkey, however, Flock was a very serious and very good competitor. His 18 wins in 1955 en route to his second series championship is a record that has only been broken by Richard Petty in the 65 years since.

In 39 career wins, Flock won 10 races after leading flag-to-flag, the most all time, as pointed out by a user on Flock’s Racing Reference page and confirmed by myself after researching it. He led the first lap, last lap, every lap. Never relinquishing the lead in a Cup race was a rare feat even back then, where it was the race of the year if seven cars finished on the lead lap, and Flock’s 10 “perfect race” mark is something that will never be topped by any individual driver.

I was born in 1994. In my lifetime, there has only been one “perfect race” in the NASCAR Cup Series. That race, an event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway where Jeff Burton led all 300 laps, only happened because of a Band-Aid.

A number of drivers had been killed or seriously injured at New Hampshire preceding the event that year. The problem was that throttles were being stuck wide open and drivers couldn’t avoid violently hitting the wall. NASCAR’s short-term solution was to run with restrictor plates on the race cars, which meant that drivers literally could not pass each other.

Needless to say, the odds of NASCAR somehow allowing another “perfect race” to happen are very low, let alone 10 of them in any future driver’s career. Jimmie Johnson is retiring at the end of this season, and he has never seen a “perfect race” in his entire career by any driver. Flock’s name will forever be at the very top of this obscure record.

3. The “Joe DiMaggio” Record

This record seems very simple in execution, but anybody who spends maybe five minutes thinking about it will realize just how impossible this will ever be to beat.

Bobby Allison once led at least one lap in 39 consecutive races. From his win from the pole in the 1971 Southern 500, to his win at Rockingham Speedway 13 months later, Allison found himself in the lead at some point in every event.

Ever want to know how screwed up the NASCAR point system was before 1975? Allison did not win the championship that season, in spite of leading over 4,000 laps. Instead, Richard Petty thundered to his then-record fourth championship. Allison had two more wins, but the King had the edge on a slightly better average finish.

4. Curtis Turner’s 1950 Season In General

In 1950, one of the most screwy championship battles in Cup history occurred. Long-shot Bill Rexford won the second championship in the sophomore series after NASCAR founder Bill France stripped multiple drivers of their total points accumulated at multiple points in the season due to their entering of non-NASCAR “outlaw” events.

To make a long story very short, NASCAR was just one of several stock car racing organizations in the southeast, and France’s plan to ensure the best drivers would stick to NASCAR was to penalize them for not racing in NASCAR. This all changed after the first Southern 500 that year, where drivers started to go to NASCAR in droves due to just how much of a monetary success the South’s first 500-mile race was.

Of those driver’s stripped, Lee Petty is generally considered the uncrowned champion that season due to leading in most statistical categories. He led 43 laps, but was consistent enough to still end up third in points in spite of having his points taken away from him twice that season.

Curtis Turner also lost his points at one point that season. He led 1,110 laps.

We don’t know how many laps Turner completed that season due to incomplete records. However, we do know there were 3,018 laps contested in 1950.

Only a small handful of drivers have ever led over one-third of any given season. What makes Turner’s 1950 so unique, however, is just how bad he was. He won four out of 16 starts that season, but he also averaged a finish of 14.7, the worst of all drivers in the top 11 in points. A big reason for that is his 60th-place finish at Darlington, but even taking that away, Turner’s average finish of 11.5 would still not even rank in the top 10 of average finishes in that season. This is due to a putrid mark of seven top-10 finishes, in a time where the majority of races had about 25 cars show up.

Turner’s 1950 is easily the most extreme outlier in any NASCAR Cup Series season. Either Turner absolutely dominated a race or he ended his day on a wrecker. There really isn’t a record here, but this is also really the only time this season can ever really be mentioned here in this column, and it’s too weird not to do so. There’s nobody who will ever even come close to that kind of polarity, especially with how much more durable the cars are today than they were 70 years ago.

5. Joey Logano’s Record For Youngest Winner

Of all the records on this list, this is probably the one with the best chance of ever being broken.

Joey Logano’s surprise win at New Hampshire in 2009 is the only time a teenager has ever won a Cup event. Logano, at the time, had only just turned 19 the month prior.

In order to break Logano’s record, a driver would basically need to be racing in the Cup Series at age 18. And the reality is that really doesn’t seem to happen that much. Big teams and manufacturers are so frightened now not to bring a driver up too soon and destroy their confidence, turning them into a “bust.” NASCAR has also outlawed four-car race teams from bringing a fifth car to the track and has disincentivized part-time teams thanks to the charter program.

In the current millennium, I could only find records of four 18-year-old drivers starting a Cup race. They and their situations were as follows:

Kyle Busch: Busch competed in a partial schedule in 2004, ahead of his succeeding the semi-retiring Terry Labonte at Hendrick Motorsports. Busch only started one race at age 18, finishing 41st at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after crashing out 11 laps into the race.

Joey Logano: Was named to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing at the age of 18 due to Tony Stewart shockingly leaving and JGR really not having anybody else in the pipeline at the time. Logano is the only driver in history to just be given the keys to a full-time Cup car at such an early age, and he struggled mightily that first season. Before turning 19 years old, his only good finishes were three ninths in the late spring. Logano’s win was generally regarded as a fluke, coming after staying out late in a green-flag pit-stop cycle. Right before the No. 20 Toyota was about to pit, the rain came, and Logano ended up setting the record. Logano finished 20th in points and really didn’t seem ready for Cup at all that season.

Erik Jones: Jones subbed for an injured Busch in 2015 at Kansas Speedway. In his lone start in the No. 18 Toyota, Jones actually led a lap before spinning late in the race, finishing a dismal 40th despite spending a chunk of the race inside the top 15.

Gray Gaulding: Three attempts, and Gaulding couldn’t finish two of them and couldn’t qualify for one of them. In 2016, why even bother?

Of these four, Busch was situational and only made that start that young due to how his birthday fell on the calendar. Logano was unplanned long-term, and it’s beyond obvious to say, both then and now, that he really should have just stuck to NASCAR Xfinity Series competition that season. Jones only got his chance after a freak accident and David Ragan completely bombing in the No. 18 that spring. Gaulding was a mistake.

All four drivers were clearly not ready for the responsibility of driving a Cup car, and all paid the price for it. And to be fair, the only two drivers out there that the car owner could have guessed a year prior would have been out there at that young of an age would be Busch. Cup car owners are smart enough now to not bother with teenagers in general.

Will we see an 18-year-old race winner in the Cup Series? It’s absolutely not impossible. It’s also not impossible for a driver to win this weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway by 13 laps, eclipsing the miles in the first record in the countdown. It’s just not probable.

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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6 comments

  1. Avatar

    The 2011 Daytona 500 falls into the same category as the Joey Logano youngest winner record.

    • Avatar

      Trevor Bayne had just turned 20 the day prior (Thus Waltrip’s call of “Happy birthday Trevor Bayne!”) and never raced at the age of 18 in the Cup Series.

  2. Avatar

    Truly entertaining article! I think that the modern scoring you alluded to began during the 1972 season, not 1975.

    • Avatar

      1972 was the start of the Modern Era, when NASCAR cut out all less than 250 mile races from the schedule.

      1975 was when Bob Latford designed the point system that NASCAR used for almost 30 years until the Chase in 2004, which is what I was referring to. Before that, NASCAR experimented with several different point systems, such as in 1973, where points were rewarded for laps completed, and the infamous 1974 point system, a confusing mess of math that ended up ensuring that the top two finishers in the Daytona 500 that season would finish in the top two in points, as the system was designed on earnings.

      NASCAR is lucky that Richard Petty would have won the championship that season regardless of whatever system. In that season’s Southern 500, Petty finished 35th and somehow ended the day with more points than Darrell Waltrip, who finished second.

  3. Avatar

    Had Chrysler participated in 1965, Richard Petty would have probably won 115 races. He was approaching the prime of his career in superior equipment. That record of 100 and Pearson’s 95 are going to be hard to topple. More money in the sport means they will not drive as long. HOWEVER, Pearson ran the complete season 3 times and won the Championship each attempt. He only ran the big-money races.

  4. Avatar

    One feat that stands out to me was Jeff Gordon winning 33 races from 1996-98. I doubt that’ll be touched any time soon.