With nine wins in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season after his Bristol Motor Speedway victory last weekend, Kevin Harvick stands at the precipice of accomplishing something no driver has in well over a decade: a win column that breaks into the double digits.
And with the way 2020 has gone for Harvick and the No. 4 crew, it seems like a certainty it’ll happen. Seven races remain in the season, and Harvick has to win just once to score the ever-elusive 1-0; it’s not like he has just a race or two to do it. He’s also the hottest driver on the circuit in a playoff setup that champions wins over all else. Even if Denny Hamlin, who, for a time, looked like he could snag 10 wins on the year earlier in the season before a recent late-summer stretch that makes him appear a bit more human, was able to rebound, chances are Harvick will sneak into victory lane at least once.
There have certainly been seasons over the past decade that have felt fairly dominated by a single driver, years where the racer ultimately hoisting the trophy in November seemed the byproduct of the culmination of an exceptional season. But in the Cup Series, no driver has won at least 10 races in a season since Jimmie Johnson did it in his 2007 championship run, landing on exactly 10 victories by season’s end.
So it’s been a while. But there’s more to it than that. In NASCAR’s modern era, which began in 1972, 16 times has a driver won at least 10 races in a single Cup season. The all-time record is actually in reach for Harvick, too; he’d only need to win just under half the remaining events this season to tie it.
The players here? Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon. In 1975, Petty scored 13 victories en route to his sixth of seven titles. Gordon did the same in 1998, winning 13 and landing championship No. 3. (For the record, Petty also boasts the all-time single-season wins record in Cup, a whopping 27 victories in 1967. The seasons were altogether much longer then, which is part of why statistics such as this tend to only refer to the modern era rather than going all the way back to 1949. It’s likely an unbreakable record unless the series expands its schedule; imagine someone winning 28 of the 36 Cup races in a season nowadays.)
Those are the drivers on whom Harvick’s sights are ultimately set. But he’s also got a score of others to get past on the way. With 12 wins apiece in 1981 and ’82, Darrell Waltrip is next after Petty and Gordon. Then three drivers claimed 11 in a modern-era season: David Pearson (1973), Bill Elliott (1985) and Dale Earnhardt (1987).
After that, there’s a score of 10-time winners. Petty (1974), Gordon (1996 and ’97) and Pearson (1976) appear yet again, plus Bobby Allison (1972), Cale Yarborough (1974 and ’78), Rusty Wallace (1993) and the aforementioned Johnson (2007).
2020 marks 13 years since the last driver with 10 wins in a Cup season, by far the longest streak without one in series history (it took nine years between Gordon in ’98 and Johnson in ’07). And it’s undeniably exciting to see that that stretch is likely to be broken; if nothing else, it makes Harvick’s season one that’s easier than in recent years to point to as a legendary season.
At the same time? Of the other 16 seasons, only Johnson had to contend with doing so during a playoff-style setup, and only Harvick is doing so with an elimination. There’s a scenario in which he wins during the Round of 12 but falters in the Round of 8, ultimately missing out on a title. And that would be quite the story for NASCAR fans and historians to tell if it were to happen.
One other quick hit, for the record. In its 25 years of existence, the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series has never had a driver win 10 or more times in a single season. In the nearly 40-year-old Xfinity Series, it’s happened five times, and four of those are via Kyle Busch in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016. The other? Sam Ard in 1983.