In 2017, nine drivers won the first 13 races of the season: Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
The only drivers with multiple wins were Johnson with three (he would not win again in 2017, and still hasn’t won) and Truex Jr. with two (he would go on to win six more times last season en route to a championship). For the entire season, 14 drivers won races. The same number of drivers won in 2016.
Fast forward to 2018. Through the first 13 races, only five drivers have won races: Harvick (five), Kyle Busch (four) and Dillon, Logano, Clint Bowyer and Truex with one each. Breaking that down by manufacturer, it’s seven for Ford, five for Toyota and one for Chevrolet.
The question then becomes, is this move to essentially two dominate teams good for NASCAR? I guess the answer to the question depends on where your allegiances lie. If you are a Kyle Busch or Harvick fan, you’re reveling in this year’s developments. If you’re not a fan of those two drivers, then you’re probably starting to tune out to the races week-in-and-week-out.
For me, it’s not that big of a deal. It just tells me everyone not driving the No. 4 or the No. 18 just need to get to better. If you get your butt kicked that regularly, you have no choice but to.
The reason I’m not overly concerned about it is because these things have a way of working themselves out as a season goes along and fans of everyone get their happy day when their guy wins. Going beyond victories, a bunch of guys have run well in 2018, they just haven’t made their way to victory lane yet. Ryan Blaney has six top 10s in 2018 and has run well at a variety of tracks – he had a chance to win at Daytona, Martinsville, Bristol and Kansas. But he also has three DNFs, which can be chalked up to bad luck, especially at Bristol where he had a dominant car and got caught up in a wreck of lapped cars. At Charlotte he was strong – nothing like Kyle Busch – but his Ford went up in flames gloriously when the engine expired. Brad Keselowski, Blaney’s Penske teammate, currently sits in fourth in the standings with three top fives and seven top 10s despite not winning. Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin have seven and eight top 10s, respectively, but no victories. Kyle Larson has been strong as well.
Those guys will get their wins this year. We may not reach 14 winners this year, but it will be close. There is competition and the other guys will catch up. Chevrolet, which has won 39 manufacturers’ championships and 14 of the last 16, will get their wins — they are just getting a handle on the new Camaro body.
Let’s not forget, NASCAR reached a bit of a peak when you had Jeff Gordon winning a boatload of racers in the late 1990s and early aughts. Conversely, NASCAR took a popularity dive when Johnson entered his dominant stretch in the last decade, but there were other things that lined up to lead to the wane in ratings and attendance. But that was seven championships over 11 seasons, not a 13-race sample size.
After 600-ish words, I guess my theory is this: If Harvick or Busch (but not both) continue to run away with 2018, it will have a negative impact on NASCAR. Both are polarizing figures with, especially in Busch’s case, more people not liking them than liking them (there are 30-something more drivers every week). But for now, it’ll be fun to watch everyone else try to catch up.
Andy Cagle can be reached at email@example.com.