Something unusual happened in these parts Saturday afternoon (June 26): NASCAR held a race and Kyle Larson did not win. Officially, Larson was going for his fourth consecutive NASCAR Cup Series win. And he damn near got it, until a flat tire exiting the final turn on the final lap dropped him to a ninth-place result.
As far as I’m concerned, and Larson made the same “error” in his post-race interview, he was going for his fifth straight win Saturday. In addition to his wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway, you may recall he won this year’s All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway. Prior to the start of Larson’s noted streak of wins, he had finished second in three straight races: Darlington Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Circuit of the Americas.
Think what you will of this year’s All-Star Race format (and I’m on record as despising it), the other drivers did not take the evening off and hand driving chores over to robotic stunt doubles. When they handed the million dollar check over to the “winner,” they gave it to Larson. In fact, other drivers did indeed race the No. 5 team for the prize that night, and they lost. Since the rest of them all lost, someone had to win and that person was Kyle Larson.
But a great many unusual things happened Saturday besides a new winner and a last lap pass for the lead. I don’t know if I can get my mind around having a Cup race run on a Saturday afternoon as opposed to evening (and there have been numerous Saturday night races in the sport’s history over the years). It’s just a bit off to have a race run on Saturday afternoon.
Whether Larson was attempting to win his fourth or fifth race perhaps doesn’t matter that much. NBC showed a graphic a few times noting the eight drivers who had won four events in a row. Not mentioned, at least in my hearing, was the real record for consecutive wins. Richard Petty once won 10 straight races. In a stretch of races that began Aug. 12, 1967 at Winston-Salem and concluded at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Oct. 1, 1967, nobody but the King scored a win. For the record (so to speak), Larson will never eclipse that record. Nobody ever will. Hell, they’ve been trying to do so for 54 years and the closest anyone has ever gotten since 1971 is five consecutive wins.
Aside from that likely unbeatable mark, 1967 was a remarkable season for Petty and the No. 43 team. They won a total of 27 of the year’s 49 NASCAR races. They claimed 40 top-10 results, of which 38 were top fives. The outfit won the pole for six of those 10 consecutive races they won. They started outside pole in two others. They won a total of 18 poles that season.
Ford was so desperate to reign in the humiliation, they built an “experimental” car they gave to Holman-Moody, Ford’s de facto factory team at the time, and had them put Bobby Allison at the wheel. Allison won the last two races of that season at Rockingham Speedway and Ashville-Weaverville Speedway. Petty finished second at Ashville-Weaverville and crashed at Rockingham after leading 73 laps that day. The streak officially came to an end at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Petty blew an engine, allowing Buddy Baker to win the event.
The closest anyone has come to matching Petty’s record was Allison, who won five consecutive races in 1971. Allison started his roll in the World 600 at Charlotte. He next won at Dover International Speedway and Michigan International Speedway. He won the following week at Riverside International Raceway and followed that up with a fifth win at Houston.
Later in 1971, Petty also won five straight races, claiming Malta, tiny Islip, Trenton, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. That year, Petty won 21 races and Allison won 10 times. Between them, they won 31 of that year’s 46 Cup events.
Winning four consecutive races in NASCAR’s top series is no small achievement. The eight drivers who did so previously (not including Petty or Allison) were:
- Cale Yarborough, 1976: Richmond Raceway, Dover, Martinsville Speedway and North Wilkesboro
- Darrell Waltrip, 1981: Martinsville. North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham
- Dale Earnhardt, 1987: Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville
- Harry Gant, 1991: Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville
- Bill Elliott, 1992: Rockingham, Richmond, Atlanta and Darlington
- Mark Martin, 1993: Watkins Glen International, Michigan, Bristol and Darlington
- Jeff Gordon, 1998: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Michigan
- Jimmie Johnson, 2007: Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix Raceway
I was interested to see how the fans would react to Larson matching those storied drivers’ accomplishments. Previously, the feat has drawn mixed reactions. A whole lot of fans despised DW for most of his driving career. Despite what your uncle with the metal plate in his head told you, not everyone was a fan of The Intimidator. I recall seeing T-shirts at the track that read, “I don’t care who wins at long as it’s not the black 3 car.” Earnhardt had a reputation as a hard charger who wrecked a lot of competitors … or at the very least rattled their cages.
Gordon had his fair share of detractors who booed his (frequent) success and occasional misfortune. The same went for Johnson; both Gordon and Johnson were a little too “Yankee” for some Southern fans. I don’t know how that sort of fan will react to Larson potentially winning four events in a row. And it will be a while before we find out, I suppose.
While we’re exploding myths about the sport, in some respects the Good Old Days were sometimes not so good. During Petty’s 10-race winning streak, he was often the only car left on the lead lap. In fact, during that streak Dick Hutcherson was the only driver to once finish on the same lap at Petty (at Hillsboro).
To debunk another myth about the days of yore, let me inform you racing back then didn’t turn teenagers into millionaires overnight. I’ve mentioned Richard Petty a few times. The guy, after all, did win 200 times in NASCAR’s top division (another record that will never be broken). In 35 years of Cup racing, and despite those 200 wins Petty claimed just $8,541,210 dollars in prize money. That doesn’t include endorsement deals, sponsorship or other such foo-foo-raw. It’s just winnings. Then look at Danica Patrick, not out of spite but simply because she’s back in the spotlights with the SRX experiment.
Patrick drove in a total of 191 NASCAR Cup races. She never managed a top-five finish, though she did collect seven top 10s. Her career earnings (just in Cup prize money) are listed as around #12.4 million, way more than the King.
But Larson’s last lap flat left another streak intact. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman won in Larson’s place. Combined with Chase Elliott’s win at COTA, prior to Larson’s streak, HMS had six consecutive wins.
The record for consecutive wins by a team in NASCAR’ s top division, at least by my research, was set way back in 1956 by an outfit owned by Carl Kiekhaefer. I don’t present Mr. Kiekhaefer as a moral paragon. He was, in fact, a skunk of the lowest order. But he spent money like he hated the stuff, particularly on a fleet of white Chrysler 300 series cars that flat out dominated NASCAR racing in that era.
From Atlanta on March 25, 1956 to Merced, a tiny half-mile dirt track in California, on June 3, Kiekhaefer’s Chryslers won every event. That’s a remarkable 15 straight wins by one team, a mark I doubt will ever be matched.