Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Best of the Month: February 2023

February sure does fly by. It is the shortest month, but are two days really that big of a difference? It must be the case. Just like that, a sixth of the year is complete. The good news is, with warmer days approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, more series are about to get underway for the 2023 calendar. We have already had many exciting events this year, but the best has yet to come. 

IndyCar Facts You Will Not Believe Are True Entering the 2023 Season
We are less than a week from the IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg. I don't want to say February is one long build-up to the IndyCar season, but considering it is a six-month offseason, everybody is more than ready when February comes around. 

Everyone is ready to race, but there is always something surprising that we learn each season. Even when things go as expected or seem to make sense, there is always something unexpected that we learn. With a few days left before the first race of the IndyCar season, I thought we should look at a few things you may not believe to be the case ahead of the 2023 season, such as...

Scott Dixon has not won a pole position outside Indianapolis since 2016
IndyCar's best driver in the 21st century isn't perfect. For everything Scott Dixon achieves, he does have a few quirks. Dixon has always been a good qualifier, but outside of one or two seasons, he has never been the spectacular qualifier you would think for a driver with such a record as his. 

Example, Dixon has won only three pole positions since 2017. That is three pole positions for 97 races, minus five or six where qualifying was rained out. That isn't a remarkable batting average, but get this... all three of those pole positions were for the Indianapolis 500! 

He started on pole position for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 2017, 2021 and 2022. 

Dixon's last pole position outside of Indianapolis was Watkins Glen 2016. 

If you think that is incredible, well, I have more for you. Dixon hasn't won a pole position at oval that wasn't Indianapolis since 2014 at Iowa! He also won pole position for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 in that interim. 

That 2016 Watkins Glen pole position turned into a victory. When was the last time Dixon won from pole position at an oval? That would be Motegi in 2009! It has been over 13 years since Scott Dixon won from pole position on an oval. It is not easy to win from pole position at any place, except since that Motegi race, Dixon has won five times from pole position. He has won 31 times since Motegi 2009, nine of those on ovals.  

What are we likely to see in 2023? Would we really be surprised if Dixon won from pole position at Texas or Gateway or Iowa or finally again at Indianapolis? No, of course not. But maybe we should be.

Speaking of oval races from pole position... 

Will Power has not won an oval race from pole position since 2014
Power too!? Apparently!

IndyCar's all-time leader in pole positions, Power shocks no one in qualifying. We expect he will be on pole position at most races. If he wins from pole position, again, no one would shake their head. But Power has not won from pole position on an oval since Milwaukee 2014. We are approaching nine years since that occurred! 

Power has won 31 pole positions since that 2014 Milwaukee race. Of those 31 races, Power has won six of them, four at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, one at Road America and one at Mid-Ohio. 

It hasn't been for a lack of pole positions on ovals. Ten of his last 31 pole positions were on ovals. 

Power isn't the only Penske driver with something peculiar...

Since 2017, Josef Newgarden has only three podium finishes in races where another Team Penske driver wins
Since joining Team Penske in 2017, nobody has won more in IndyCar than Josef Newgarden, and it really isn't close. Newgarden has won 22 times in 97 races. The next closest is Dixon with 13 victories and the only other driver to win more than ten times in that time frame is Power with 12 victories. 

But when another Penske driver wins, Newgarden doesn't do well. 

Since Newgarden joined Penske, other Penske drivers have combined to win 22 times. In those 22 races, Newgarden has three podium finishes. He was runner-up to Power at Pocono in 2017, runner-up to Simon Pagenaud at Sonoma in 2017 and he was runner-up to Power again in the first Mid-Ohio race in 2020. Two of those were in Newgarden's first season with Penske! 

What about Newgarden's 22 victories? Other Team Penske drivers combine for ten podium finishes in races Newgarden has won. Three came in Newgarden's first season with Penske. Pagenaud was third at Barber and Gateway and Power was second at Mid-Ohio. In 2019, Power was third at St. Petersburg when Newgarden won. Power was then second in the second Iowa race in 2020 and then third in the second Gateway race later that season. Power was third at Gateway the following year when Newgarden won. In 2022, Scott McLaughlin was second at Texas when Newgarden passed him on the final corner, Power was third at Iowa and McLaughlin was then third at Gateway. 

Newgarden has won half of Penske's races since 2017, but in the other half of those victories, he has only been on the podium three times. That might not be the only startling fact for this past champion...

Only two champions since reunification have not won the Indianapolis 500
Newgarden is one of them. The other is Álex Palou. Every other champion since 2008 has won the Indianapolis 500. 

Scott Dixon won the championship and the Indianapolis 500 in 2008. Dario Franchitti was already an Indianapolis 500 winner when he won the 2009 championship, but Franchitti then won the "500" and the championship in 2010, added another championship in 2011 and another "500" in 2012.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was the 2012 champion and then won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. Will Power won the 2014 championship and then won the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Simon Pagenaud won the title in 2016 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2019. 

Newgarden has yet to win the Indianapolis 500. Neither has Palou, but he was second in 2021, coincidentally the year he won the championship. 

The best find a way to win the Indianapolis 500. You would think Newgarden will soon get his moment at Indianapolis, and the same could be true for Palou, but it doesn't always work out that way.

St. Petersburg will be the first race without a Japanese driver entrant since Kentucky 2002
This one may surprise you, but Japanese drivers have been regularly on the IndyCar grid for over 20 years. This should be noted that this takes into consideration what were Indy Racing League/IndyCar Series races. This doesn't take into consideration CART/Champ Car races, nor the 2008 Long Beach race, which was run under Champ Car rules but counted to the unified IndyCar Series championship. 

While we have gone over 20 years with Japanese entrants in every race, there was one race that did not have a Japanese starter and that was because Takuma Sato had an accident in qualifying ahead of the 2020 Texas season opener, keeping him from starting the race. 

The last race without a Japanese entrant was August 11, 2002 at August. The next race was at Gateway and Hideki Noda was on the grid. Noda would start the final three races of the 2002 season. In 2003, Tora Takagi ran the entire season and Takagi was around for the entire 2004 season, as was Kosuka Matsuura. Matsuura started every race from 2004 through 2007. In the 2007 season finale, Hideki Mutoh made his IndyCar debut and Mutoh would be full-time the next two seasons. In 2010, Takuma Sato entered the series and he was full-time through 2022. 

That is how for over 20 years, with a big assist from Honda and Toyota, there was at least one Japanese driver entered for every IRL/IndyCar race. That is 333 consecutive races! For the longest time, Honda wanted a Japanese driver in IndyCar, and Honda hasn't shown the same interest in finding a successor for Sato as it did for Matsuura and Mutoh. Does that tell us anything about how Honda views IndyCar's long-term or does Honda no longer feel the need to have a full-time Japanese participant? Time will tell.

Conor Daly's 500s
Conor Daly may be the only driver in IndyCar in 2023 to run multiple 500-mile races this season. They will not both be IndyCar races, as Daly started the Daytona 500 after an improbable set of circumstances allowed him to qualify for NASCAR's biggest race despite driving the worst car entered. 

Daly has now run the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. He became the 62 driver to start both. That is 7.838% of the 791 drivers to start the Indianapolis 500 have started the Daytona 500 at some point in their careers. Not bad. If Daly were to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 this May, he will become the 40th driver to start the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same year. 

How many drivers have raced in the Daytona 500 and then won the Indianapolis 500 later that year? 

The answer is six drivers have done it and it has happened eight times.

Parnelli Jones (1963)
A.J. Foyt (1964, 1967, 1977)
Mark Donohue (1972)
Gordon Johncock (1973)
Johnny Rutherford (1974)
Tom Sneva (1983)

That would be some list to join, especially for an Indiana-born driver...

The last Indiana-born driver to win an IndyCar race was...
I don't remember how this got on my mind, but when was the last time an Indiana-born driver won an IndyCar race?

You may be thinking, "Ed Carpenter! Obviously."

Well, IndyCar loves to lie to you, or at least fudge the truth, because Carpenter was born in Paris, Illinois. Sure, he may have grown up in Indiana, and associate with being a Hoosier, but he wasn't born there. Who was the last Indiana-born driver to win a race? 

It was Mark Dismore at Texas on October 17, 1999. That is over 23 years ago! No driver born in the Hoosier state has won in IndyCar in the 21st century! If Conor Daly does not win this season we will have gone over 24 years between Indiana-born winners. 

March Preview
We will go in-depth about the upcoming FIA World Endurance Championship season as we get closer to the season opener, but for the third time the Super Sebring weekend will take place over March 17-18. There is one problem, this could be the final Super Sebring. 

WEC is looking at other possible venues in the United States and the series has already ruled out adding a second American round. After a few condensed seasons due the pandemic, WEC has expanded back to eight races for the 2023 season. In 2024, a new round in Qatar will open the season. There are still more possible venues WEC is looking at and it is adjusting its approach early in its second decade.

Super Sebring emerged after a few difficult years in the United States for WEC with underwhelming rounds in Austin, which struggled to establish an identity after first running on Saturday during college football season while a stadium was full of 94,000 people across town and forcing WEC to run until midnight and then running on a Sunday afternoon when nobody noticed it was there. Sebring was already a healthy weekend and tacking on WEC added challenges but amplified an already exciting event. 

A second pit lane was constructed, campers were moved around, Friday night became WEC's, but after a few compromises, Super Sebring turned into a hit. Losing two years due to the pandemic made the heart grow fonder, but in 2022, it was a wonderful return. Sadly, we don't know if it will last beyond 2023. 

While WEC gets to race in front of crowd, running Friday afternoon into evening and night in the middle of Florida isn't the ideal way to open a season, not when you are a world championship broadcasting all around the globe. WEC is never going to become top dog at Sebring. It isn't going to run Saturday for 12 hours. What is WEC to do? 

If WEC leaves, Sebring will be fine, but something will be missed. It was a global family reunion for sports car racing, a treat to spectators that could see such a collection of drivers, automobiles and manufactures and about 2,000 miles of racing over two days. 

It would be great to see WEC have a successful standalone event in the United States, but that will remain a challenge. As many sports car fans there are in this country, it has to find the right place at the right time for an event to stick. It is possible, but it would be best if WEC and IMSA continued to work together, though it is hard to fathom that will be the case if this is the final Super Sebring. 

Other March events of note:
IndyCar season opener from St. Petersburg and that is it. 
The first two Formula One races from the Middle East. 
MotoGP will open its season. 
Supercars opens its season and returns to Newcastle as well. 
Formula E makes its first trek to Brazil. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: 2023 Possible IndyCar Milestones

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

South Africa was busy this weekend. One local was living a dream, another didn't get to compete. A breathtaking pass occurred for a victory. There were a few notable falls in Supercross. World Superbike had mixed conditions for its season opener from Phillip Island. There were mixed conditions for the indefinite final weekend from Fontana, but Kyle Busch only needed two races with Richard Childress Racing to get his first Cup victory with the team. Formula One testing took place, and it appears 2023 isn't going to look much different than 2022. Formula One teams are raising its price for Andretti's entry. Drive to Survive released its fifth season. But it is another season opener that has my attention...

2023 Possible IndyCar Milestones
The final days of the IndyCar offseason are here. For how long the IndyCar offseason is, it does feel like the 2023 season has just shown up on our doorstep unannounced. A week from now the first race of the season will be in the books and we will be on our way to deciding the 2023 champion.

Championship aside, many other historic accomplishments will occur before the Astor Cup is awarded, and this is our chance to prepare ourselves for what could happen over the 17-race IndyCar calendar. 

Scott Dixon - Most Consecutive Starts
Where he is at: 305 consecutive starts

What he needs to do: There is an entire Scott Dixon section today, because it is Scott Dixon, but next to a record-tying seventh championship, this could be the most historic thing Scott Dixon accomplishes this season. 

Dixon is 13 starts away from equaling Tony Kanaan's record of 318 consecutive IndyCar starts. Fourteen consecutive starts and Dixon will own another record. Dixon has not missed a race since the 2004 Indy Racing League event at Milwaukee on July 25, 2004. The first race of this streak was August 1, 2004 at Michigan. Dixon could equal the record, 19 years and five days after it began, at Nashville. He could break the record, 19 years and 11 days after it began, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Dixon: Most Top Five Finishes
Where he is at: 192 top five finishes

What he needs to do: Dixon needs two top five finishes to break Mario Andretti's record of 193 top five finishes, and 200 top five finishes are still in play this season, but let's get the overall record first. This could checked be off through the first two races at St. Petersburg and Texas. 

Dixon has had two top five finishes within the first four races of the season in the last four years. He has had at least two top five finishes in the first five races of a season in 17 consecutive seasons and 18 of the last 19 seasons. The 2005 season is the last time Dixon failed to get at least two top five finishes. 

As for 200, Dixon is coming off a season with nine top five finishes in 2022. He also had nine in 2021, and nine in 2020, and 11 in 2019. It is easier to ask, "When was the last time Dixon had fewer than eight top five finishes in a season?" The answer would be 2016 when he had five. In the DW12 era, 2015 and 2016 are the only years he has not had at least eight top five finishes. Before 2015 and 2016, when was the last time he had fewer than eight top five finishes in a season? That would be that previously mentioned 2005 season. 

Two hundred has a good chance of happening. 

Dixon: Second Most Laps Led
Where he is at: 6,519 laps led

What he needs to do: Dixon must lead 174 laps to surpass Michael Andretti for the second most laps led in IndyCar history. He has led at least 174 laps in the last five seasons and in 15 of the last 17 seasons. Again, another place in the record book that looks likely to be Dixon's when 2023 is over. 

In case you are wondering about the all-time record? Mario Andretti leads with 7,595 laps led, 1,076 clear of Dixon. Only three times has a driver led more than 1,000 laps in a season, the most recent being Michael Andretti in 1992.

Dixon: Fourth Most Starts
Where he is at: 368 starts

What he needs to do: Dixon is one start behind A.J. Foyt for fourth all-time. Dixon should be level with Foyt after St. Petersburg. Fittingly, Dixon would surpass Foyt for fourth at Texas.

Dixon: Most Different Circuits with a Victory
Where he is at: 26 different circuits, tied for the all-time record

What he needs to do: Dixon must win at either St. Petersburg, Barber, Detroit, Portland or Laguna Seca to break the tie with Mario Andretti for most different circuits with a victory. 

Hélio Castroneves: Second Most Starts
Where he is at: 374 starts

What he needs to do: Castroneves will start the 2023 season third in starts, 14 behind Tony Kanaan for second. We know Kanaan will make one final start in the 2023 Indianapolis 500, bringing his career total to 389 starts. In all likelihood, Castroneves will need at least 390 starts to be second all-time at the end of the 2023 season, barring Tony Kanaan deciding to postpone his retirement for a few more races. We could be looking at Castroneves claiming second at Portland. 

Will Power and Hélio Castroneves: 100 Podium Finishes
Where they are at: 94 podium finishes

What they need to do: Score six podium finishes. Castroneves picked up zero in 2022, and six podium finishes in 2023 feels like a stretch for the Brazilian, but as for Power, the Australian has had six podium finishes in nine of the last 13 seasons. In the process of going for 100, when either of these drivers reach 99 podium finishes, they would move ahead of Al Unser in the record book. If either reach 100 podium finishes, they would equal Michael Andretti for fourth all-time. 

Josef Newgarden: 60 Podium Finishes
Where he is at: 55 podium finishes

What he needs to do: Pick up five podium finishes. Sixty podium finishes doesn't sound like a historic mark, but it is a new zip code. Only 20 drivers have scored 50 podium finishes. If Newgarden were to reach 60, he would be only the 18th driver to reach that mark. Three more podium finishes and he would move ahead of Sébastien Bourdais in the record book. Hitting 60 would tie Newgarden with Johnny Rutherford.

Newgarden has had exactly six podium finishes in each of the last three seasons, and he has had at least five podium finishes in five of six seasons driving for Team Penske.

Alexander Rossi: 50 Top Five Finishes
Where he is at: 40 top five finishes

What he needs to do: Rossi needs to have ten top five finishes. That is a massive ask for Rossi, but he has been expressing new found confidence since joining the McLaren organization. Only twice has Rossi had at least ten top five finishes in a season. He had ten in 2018 and 11 in 2019. If Rossi were to reach 50 top five finishes he would be the 34th driver to reach that milestone. 

Graham Rahal: Second Most Starts Between Victories
Where he is at: 90 starts without a victory

What he needs to do: We mentioned this last year. Well, Rahal could have an odd piece of history that he likely doesn't want but could be still cool to have. If Rahal does not win any of the first eight races of the 2023 season, any victory that follows this season would give Rahal the second most starts between victories. Currently, the second most starts between victories is 97 by Johnny Rutherford. 

Who has the record? It would be Graham Rahal, who went 124 starts between his first victory at St. Petersburg in 2008 and his second victory at Fontana in 2015. Rahal could own the two longest streaks for most starts between victories in IndyCar history. No one wants that record but he is already guaranteed at least the third longest streak. 

Look at it this way, no driver has snapped multiple winless streaks greater than 50 starts in IndyCar history. If Rahal does it, not only would it be history, but it would show a career of perseverance that many should use as inspiration.

Takuma Sato: 1,000 Laps Led
Where he is at: 935 laps led

What he needs to do: Lead 65 laps. Only 41 drivers have led at least 1,000 laps in IndyCar history. Sato reaching it would be kind of fitting. He has had a better career than Marco Andretti, Scott Sharp, Greg Ray and Buddy Lazier, and all of those drivers have led at least 1,000 laps in their careers. Sato should, on principle, reach that milestone. It will be tougher as Sato will only run the five oval races this season. He will have 1,258 chances to lead a laps in 2023, as long as weather doesn't get in the way.

Simon Pagenaud and Ed Carpenter: 200 Starts
Where they are at: Pagenaud is on 199 starts. Carpenter is on 196 starts.

What they needs to do: Pagenaud just has to start St. Petersburg. Carpenter could hit 200 as early as the second Iowa race with his oval-only schedule. They will be the 28th and 29th drivers respectively to pass the bicentennial mark in starts. For each driver you have to think about all the races they didn't start.

Pagenaud lost four seasons after reunification because there was no seat for him in 2008. He spent the better part of four years in sports cars. He could have had another 66 starts to his name if he had a ride after reunification. 

Carpenter has been an oval-only driver since 2014, plus he was only a part-time driver in 2010 and 2011. Just taking the previous nine seasons into consideration, if Carpenter had been full-time that entire time, he would actually be on 299 starts entering 2023! I think it has worked out for Carpenter considering he was never the most competitive on road courses, but he could be much further up the record book had he decided he would remain full-time. 

Conor Daly: 100 Starts
Where he is at: 97 starts

What he needs to do: Start three races. One hundred starts is quite big for Daly. He spent a good portion of his early career being that guy who couldn't get a break full-time and he pieced together a career. It hasn't been a stellar run but Daly has made the most of difficult situations. If Daly does not win either of his first two starts, he would be in position to become the fourth driver to take 100 starts or more to get a first career victory. If he does not win until the Laguna Seca season finale, Daly would surpass Ed Carpenter for the third most starts before a first career victory in IndyCar history.

Tony Kanaan: Four Different Decades with a Victory
Where he is at: Three different decades with a victory

What he needs to do: Win the Indianapolis 500. I am bringing this back because the Indianapolis 500 could be Kanaan's final start. He has won in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. The only driver to win an IndyCar race in four different decades is Mario Andretti. Last year, Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya each had a chance to join Andretti last year. Montoya likely will not be at Indianapolis this year. Kanaan is the only hope. 

If Kanaan does not win this year, it could be seven years until we see another chance at this accomplishment, and that would require Scott Dixon, Hélio Castroneves and/or Will Power racing into 2030. Castroneves will be in his mid 50s, Dixon his early 50s and Power will be 49 years old. I am not sure any of those three will be around in 2030. We may have to wait until 2040 when either Josef Newgarden or Colton Herta may have a chance at it, but even that is far from a guarantee. Kanaan could be the last driver we see have a shot at this for quite a long-time if not ever.  

Santino Ferrucci: Five Top Ten Finishes in First Five Indianapolis 500 Starts
Where he is at: Four top ten finishes in four Indianapolis 500 starts

What he needs to do: Finish in the top ten of the Indianapolis 500, but do you know how rare five top ten finishes in the first five Indianapolis 500 starts for a driver is? Here is the list of drivers to do it.

Harry Hartz
Hélio Castroneves

That's it. That's the list. 

Ferrucci has finished seventh, fourth, sixth and tenth at Indianapolis. His career average finish is 6.75 in the Indianapolis 500. If he wins the Indianapolis 500 this year, Ferrucci's average finish would improve to 5.6, the fourth best average finish among drivers with at least five Indianapolis 500 starts. It would only trail Bill Holland (4.4), Ted Horn (4.6) and Jimmy Murphy (5.0). He would be ahead of Hartz (6.5), Dan Wheldon (7.333), Carlos Muñoz (7.5) and Hélio Castroneves (8.318). If he finishes tenth, Ferrucci's average finish would be 7.4. At worst, even if Ferrucci doesn't finish in the top ten and finishes dead last in 33rd, his average finish would be 12.0, tied for 46th best with the likes of Jim Clark, Earl DeVore, Bobby Rahal and Floyd Roberts.

Ferrucci has been remarkable in his early days at Indianapolis in otherwise overlooked cars. You don't accidentally get five consecutive top ten Indianapolis 500 finishes. This small piece of history would be quite remarkable.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch, but did you know...

John Hunter Nemechek won the Grand National Series race from Fontana.

António Félix da Costa won the Cape Town ePrix.

The #32 Team WRT BMW of Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts won the Kyalami 9 Hours.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross Triple Crown round from Arlington after he won the third race. Eli Tomac and Jason Anderson split the first two races.  

Álvaro Bautista swept the World Superbike races from Phillip Island. Nicolò Bulega swept the World Supersport races.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar season opener from St. Petersburg.
Formula One season opener from Bahrain.
GT America will also be in St. Petersburg.
Daytona Bike Week sees Supercross run at the Speedway.
World Superbike moves north to Mandalika, Indonesia.
NASCAR heads east to Las Vegas.

Friday, February 24, 2023

2023 Formula One Season Preview

Formula One testing is underway, and in less than a week the first practice session of the season will take place. The longest Formula One season will see 23 races spread over 266 days. Fourteen drivers remain in the same place from last season, but there will be two drivers set to make debuts while a past Formula E champion is set to become a full-timer and there is a returning veteran after a pair of seasons as a substitute.  

Along with new drivers, there will be a new circuit, though the city has a Formula One history, and one circuit is returning after a year hiatus.

There were two first-time winners in the 2022 season, but we also saw a new record set for victories in a season. It was also a season where budget cap violations drew much attention and could hang over the upcoming season. 

For the third consecutive season, Bahrain hosts the Formula One season opener with the opening round taking place on March 5, the earliest start for a Formula One season since the 2002 season. Two weeks after Bahrain, Saudi Arabia hosts the second round on March 19 before Australia hosts round three on April 2. 

Formula One will take nearly a month off before Azerbaijan hosts the fourth round of the season on April 30, a week before the second Miami Grand Prix. Imola marks the first European round of the season and it is the first of a three-week stretch of racing that includes Monaco on May 28 and Spain on June 4. 

After a week off that coincides with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Formula One returns to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix on June 18. The Austrian Grand Prix will be the first race of summer on July 2, the first of a back-to-back with the British Grand Prix. After a week off, Hungary will take place on July 23, leading off aanother back-to-back, but this time with the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps. 

Belgium will be the last race before the summer break. Formula One will return for the 14th round of the season at Zandvoort. Monza will be the final race of the European portion of the season on September 3. The Asian swing will begin with the Singapore Grand Prix on September 17 with the Japanese Grand Prix from Suzuka following on September 8. 

Qatar returns to the schedule on October 8. The United States Grand Prix will be October 22, a week before Mexico with Interlagos making it a three-week swing of races. The Las Vegas Grand Prix is scheduled to be the penultimate round on November 18. Eight days later, the 2023 season concludes with the 23rd round, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the Yas Marina Circuit. 

Oracle Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen: #1 Red Bull RB19
What did he do in 2022: Verstappen won a record 16 races and stood on the podium 17 times as he took his second consecutive world championship with 454 points and led Red Bull to its first World Constructors' Championship since 2013.

What to expect in 2023: Until seen otherwise, Verstappen will be the championship favorite. Will it be as easy as 2022? Probably not. The Dutchman caught a beleaguered Ferrari team, which allowed him and Red Bull to annihilate the competition after appearing to have a fight on its hands through the opening five rounds. 

Red Bull is facing wind tunnel restrictions after it was found guilty of budget cap violations, but from the early looks of testing the RB19 is more than ready to be a title winner. There is a world where Red Bull is caught this season and it could lose the championship, but that feels like a stretch. This could be a season where Red Bull rides out the punishment and is still mightier than the rest. If that is the case, Verstappen will be capturing his third consecutive World Drivers' Championship.

Sergio Pérez: #11 Red Bull RB19
What did he do in 2022: Pérez won at Monaco and Singapore while finishing on 11 times, but he was third in the World Drivers' Championship, falling three points shy of making it a Red Bull drivers' 1-2.

What to expect in 2023: It will be more playing second-fiddle to Verstappen, maybe picking up a race victory or two when Verstappen is off and fighting to be second in the world championship. Pérez had what it took to make it a Red Bull 1-2. He didn't get the same kind of him from within the team that he was giving across the garage. 

It was contentious at the end of 2022, and Pérez will have a larger shadow over him than most as Daniel Ricciardo has returned as a Red Bull reserve driver. I don't expect Pérez to be pulled, but Ricciardo's presence will be noticed at a few different points this season. 

Scuderia Ferrari
Charles Leclerc: #16 Ferrari SF-23
What did he do in 2022: Leclerc won two of the first three races and held the championship lead through the first five races, but a rough patch in the early spring that carried into the summer kept him from making a title push. He ended the season with three victories and ten podium finishes, finishing second in the World Drivers' Championship by 146 points. 

What to expect in 2023: Considering the start of the 2022 season, it is easy believe if 2023 is a mulligan, Leclerc can at least be more competitive and keep the pressure on Verstappen deeper into the season. Beyond the cockpit, Ferrari has made plenty of changes. Frédéric Vasseur has become team principal. The team has made changes to improve strategy, and yet, it does not feel Ferrari is moving in the right direction. 

It is easier to imagine Ferrari going winless this year than winning the world championship. This time a year ago it was reversed. Ferrari could have a handful of strong days. In those cases, Leclerc is more likely to be the one on top, but falling from second also feels inevitable for this season.

Carlos Sainz, Jr.: #55 Ferrari SF-23
What did he do in 2022: Sainz, Jr. picked up his first career victory at Silverstone, but a handful of retirements set him back. He stood on the podium ten times before finishing fifth in the world championship.

What to expect in 2023: Sainz, Jr. wasn't the clear number two for Ferrari, but he has yet to grab the reins and lead a team. We will see those flashes of pace and he will get a few podium results, but this could be the season where thoughts begin to turn on Sainz, Jr. This is almost equivalent to what we saw Ricciardo go through last year with McLaren. If this isn't the year Sainz, Jr. establishes himself as a threat, when will it come? 

Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
Lewis Hamilton: #44 Mercedes W14
What did he do in 2022: For the first time in his grand prix career, Lewis Hamilton did not win a race. Hamilton had nine podium results, but 2022 wound up being his worst season, finishing sixth in the championship, 214 points behind Verstappen.

What to expect in 2023: Expectations have been lowered across the Mercedes camp, but confidence is coming off as higher entering 2023 than when it started 2022. The car is more stable and it is better platform to build from. As bad as last year started, Mercedes made a charge for second in the constructors' championship and still had 17 total podium finishes. 

Things have to be better this year. For Hamilton, I don't know if he can go toe-to-toe with Red Bull and take the fight to Verstappen for the world championship, but he should find a way to win a few races. He probably should have won once or twice in 2022, but the car wasn't there. There should be more trust in the car and Mercedes will rebound.

George Russell: #63 Mercedes W14
What did he do in 2022: One of the most consistent drivers of the season, Russell was regularly the top Mercedes finisher. He opened the season with nine consecutive top five finishes and 15 top five finishes in the first 16 races. He picked up his first career victory in Brazil with Hamilton finishing second. Russell was fourth in the championship, 179 points back.

What to expect in 2023: A greater fight from his teammate for starters. If this car is not lost in the wilderness through the first four months of the season, Hamilton should be leading Russell, but the combination of the two drivers should carry Mercedes up the grid. 

Mercedes probably has the most stable driver pairing. Hamilton and Russell are likely the teammates most in-sync entering 2023. If Hamilton and Russell are lifting each other up, Mercedes will easily take second and could topple a fractured Red Bull. Russell's results should mirror Hamilton's. They should each get at least one victory and both should finish in the top five of the championship.

BWT Alpine F1 Team
Pierre Gasly: #10 Alpine A523
What did he do in 2022: Driving for AlphaTauri, Gasly was 14th in the championship with 23 points. He scored points in six races with his best finish being fifth in Azerbaijan. 

What to expect in 2023: After six seasons under the Red Bull umbrella, Gasly has branched out and is hoping to find better results than his final season with AlphaTauri. Alpine has been stuck as a mid-pack team. I think Gasly's season will look similar to what he experienced last year as others move ahead of Alpine.

Esteban Ocon: #31 Alpine A523
What did he do in 2022: Ocon was the top Alpine driver in the 2022 championship. He was eighth in the championship, matching his best championship finish, with a career-best 92 points. His best finish was fourth in the Japanese Grand Prix. 

What to expect in 2023: Ocon will have the advantage of knowing the team. He should led Alpine, but it should be tight between him and Gasly. This will be a tougher season and Ocon should fall from eighth in the championship and likely fall out of the top ten. There could be a handful of strong days but it will tough to come by.

McLaren F1 Team
Lando Norris: #4 McLaren MCL60
What did he do in 2022: Norris was third at Imola but he had only two other top five finishes all season. He scored points in 17 races and finished seventh in the championship with 122 points.

What to expect in 2023: Norris led the way for McLaren in 2022, and frankly he has led the way the last two seasons. After winning a race in 2021 and coming close to winning two, McLaren took a disappointing step back last season. Norris was best of the rest but was further from the front. Things should improve this year. I am not sure Norris can get that elusive victory, even if he is challenging more at the front. 

Oscar Piastri: #81 McLaren MCL60
What did he do in 2022: Piastri started the year as an Alpine reserve driver before moving to McLaren.

What to expect in 2023: Piastri ripped up the junior ranks, winning the Formula Renault Europcup, Formula Three and Formula Two championships in consecutive seasons. Piastri was sidelined last year before deciding to bail on Alpine for McLaren. Junior series champions have struggled entering Formula One of late. Nobody has come close to repeating Lewis Hamilton's debut season. Piastri will not match that, but he should score more than 37 points. 

Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake
Guanyu Zhou: #24 Alfa Romeo C43
What did he do in 2022: In his rookie season, Zhou scored a point on debut, but he scored only five more points all season with an eighth in Montreal and a tenth in Austin. He was 18th in the championship.

What to expect in 2023: More points. Zhou will have better consistency and do a better job of finding speed and in turn getting results. He will not be a strong challenger for the top Alfa Romeo driver in the championship, but he will nearly quadruple his points total and have more finishes ahead of his teammate.

Valtteri Bottas: #77 Alfa Romeo C43
What did he do in 2022: Moving to a new team, Bottas ended up tenth in the championship with 49 points. The Finn sacred points in six of the first seven races and seven of the first nine, but he only scored points in two of the final 11 races. He had 49 points.

What to expect in 2023: Something similar to 2022, but a more consistent season. We will not see a large gap between points finishes, but we will not see a significant decrease in point finishes. That means Bottas will score some more points and likely keep himself in the top ten of the championship.

Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team
Fernando Alonso: #14 Aston Martin AMR23
What did he do in 2022: Alonso was ninth in the championship with 81 points. He scored points in 14 races, including in a ten-consecutive race stretch from Spain to the Netherlands. His best finish was fifth in Silverstone. 

What to expect in 2023: Aston Martin started testing looking good, and this could be Alonso's late career surge. It is difficult to see Aston Martin making a leap to being a podium contender, but with Alonso I think it is possible. It isn't necessarily going to be regular but Alonso pulled out these kind of results before with Alpine. Alonso should get into the top ten of the championship. 

Lance Stroll: #18 Aston Martin AMR23
What did he do in 2022: Stroll scored 18 points, including having six tenth-place finishes, ending up 15th in the championship. His best result was sixth in the Singapore Grand Prix. 

What to expect in 2023: A cycling injury has made Stroll's 2023 season a little murkier. Nursing a hurt wrist, Stroll did not participate in testing with Felipe Drugovich stepping in. 

Throughout his career, we have seen Stroll as a clear number two driver. Even with a better car, paired with Alonso, it doesn't look like that will change. Stroll does have a way of pulling out a sensational result when the car is up to snuff. Any races missed will not help his championship position, but Stroll should be somewhere between 11th and 15th in the championship, where he has finished in five of six seasons.

MoneyGram Haas F1 Team
Kevin Magnussen: #20 Haas VF-23
What did he do in 2022: After being a late call-up for the 2022 season, Magnussen was fifth in the 2022 season opener and scored 25 points to finish 12th in the championship. He also won his first career pole position at Interlagos when a timely shower washed out the final round of qualifying when Magnussen topped the board. 

What to expect in 2023: Haas made a notable gain in 2022 after a rough previous two seasons. On its best day, Haas could score points and look respectable. Those days were still rare, but Magnussen was leading the way. I think Haas can make another step forward, but not necessarily be a podium contender, a place a Haas driver has yet to visit. Magnussen should be scoring between 25-40 points.

Nico Hülkenberg: #27 Haas VF-23
What did he do in 2022: Hülkenberg ran the first two races for Aston Martin in place of Sebastian Vettel, who was out due to COVID. His best finish was 12th in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

What to expect in 2023: Hülkenberg should get more out of Haas. This combination should draw more out of the car and lead to better results. It would be something if Hülkenberg's first podium finish also made him the first Haas podium finisher. I don't think that will happen. Hülkenberg should be aiming to be in the same 25-40 point range and look to get Haas another position or two in the constructors' championship.

Scuderia AlphaTauri
Nyck de Vries: #21 AlphaTauri AT04
What did he do in 2022: De Vries made an unexpected grand prix debut in the Italian Grand Prix driving for Williams when Alexander Albon was ruled out due to an appendicitis. De Vries ended up ninth on debut. He was also ninth in the Formula E championship with victories in Diriyah and Berlin.

What to expect in 2023: De Vries is getting a long-awaited shot in Formula One. The mood is quite high around AlphaTauri with de Vries in the car. He has found success basically everywhere he has gone. De Vries should lead AlphaTauri and lead the team to a better championship finish. AlphaTauri should find at least one position, if not two spots in the constructors' championship and de Vries should be somewhere in the top fifteen.

Yuki Tsunoda: #22 AlphaTauri AT04
What did he do in 2022: Tsunoda was 17th in the championship with 12 points. His best finish was seventh in Imola. 

What to expect in 2023: Tsunoda should be closer to his 2021 results, but still pale in comparison to de Vries. We will still see the errors that he has become known for in his short career and it will put more pressure on Tsunoda as he tries to keep himself in a Formula One seat for 2024. 

Williams Racing
Logan Sargeant: #2 Williams FW45
What did he do in 2022: Sargeant wound up fourth in the Formula Two championship with two victories and four podium finishes. He scored points in 20 of 28 races. 

What to expect in 2023: After a surprising Formula Two season did enough to earn Sargeant enough points for a Super License and Sargeant is now a Formula One driver. He did well in Formula Two, and he had a crushing loss in the Formula Three championship in 2020, which went to Oscar Piastri. I think Sargeant will struggle this year, and even cause some to question if he is really an upgrade over Nicholas Latifi. 

Alexander Albon: #23 Williams FW45
What did he do in 2022: Albon scored four points with a finish of ninth in Miami and finishes of tenth in Melbourne and Monza. He finished in the top 13 of 13 of 22 races. 

What to expect in 2023: Albon had one of the best seasons in 2022, though it mostly went unnoticed. The hope is Williams can at least make a step forward. It will still be an uphill battle, but Albon should at least match his 2022 output, if not exceed it. It will not be enough to put him in the top fifteen in the championship, but it will only increase respect from others.

Practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix will begin at 6:30 a.m. ET on Friday March 3. The second practice will follow later that day at 10:00 a.m. ET. On Saturday March 4, practice will be held at 6:30 a.m. ET before qualifying takes place at 10:00 a.m. ET. The 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix will being at 10:00 a.m. ET on Sunday March 5.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

2023 IndyCar Team Preview: Team Penske

Eleven days are all that remain between now and the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season opener. This is the tenth, and final, IndyCar team preview. Over the last 47 days, we have gone over every full-time entrant lined up for this season. Every team has been picked apart, strengths and weaknesses, each driver given his best and at least the most realistic outcome for the 17-race, 189-day journey that awaits. Today, we end with the top team in IndyCar history. Team Penske picked up its 17th championship in 2022. The organization in its entirety reached the 600-victory plateau as well. More is to come in 2023.

At First Glance... How does it go wrong?
No team is a better model of consistent success than Team Penske. 

Last year it won nine races and took the championship after having only won three races in 2021, the first time the team did not at least have a share of most victories for a team in an IndyCar season since 2013. Will Power took the championship eight years after his first, rising from ninth in the championship the year prior. Penske put three cars in the top four, the tenth time in 11 seasons it has had multiple top five championship finishers, and the sixth time in that span it has put at least three in the championship top five. It was more of the same, Penske at the top. 

But Penske is not immune from tribulations. After what was still a respectable 2021 season, but a disappointment given the organizations standards, most were ready for some sort of change if 2022 did not see an improvement. Penske has made changes when things had been going far better than that. 

Juan Pablo Montoya lost his full-time ride after finishing eighth in the championship while the other three Penske cars went 1-2-3. Hélio Castroneves was booted to sports cars after finishing fourth in the championship, the third best of four Penske drivers that season and Castroneves had six consecutive top five championship finishes at that time. Simon Pagenaud's exit almost mirrors Montoya's. In 2019, Pagenaud won the Indianapolis 500 and was second in the championship. In his following season, he won once and was eighth. But Pagenaud got an extra year in 2021, he was eighth again in the championship, but this time did not win a race.

For all of its success, Penske is a rotating door, prepared to make a proactive move than hold on even one season too long. This will be year three of the Power/Josef Newgarden/Scott McLaughlin lineup. Montoya/Castroneves/Power only lasted three seasons. Pagenaud/Castroneves/Power lasted three seasons. Pagenaud/Newgarden/Power was the lucky one. It got five seasons together. Pagenaud's 2019 season bought him sometime. 

History tells us change is imminent at Team Penske, even if the driving results tell us the team has nothing to worry about from its current trio of drivers. Maybe Penske needs the drama. The organization must put someone on the hot seat and toss them to keep everyone sharp and able to compete at the highest level. 

Penske has two of the best drivers in this generation. One is in the final years of his career but still has time left. The other has an entire second half of his career to go. Tossing either aside now would look foolish, and yet Penske always appears to time these thing right. The pressure is on all three. It does not take much to fall out of favor and be left behind.

2022 Team Penske Review
Wins: 9 (St. Petersburg, Texas, Long Beach, Belle Isle, Road America, Iowa I, Mid-Ohio, Gateway, Portland)
Poles: 9 (St. Petersburg, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Belle Isle, Iowa I, Iowa II, Nashville, Gateway, Portland, Laguna Seca)
Championship Finishes: 1st (Will Power), 2nd (Josef Newgarden), 4th (Scott McLaughlin)

Josef Newgarden - #2 Hitachi/PPG Chevrolet
Numbers to Remember:
5: Victories in 2022

5: Finishes outside the top ten in 2022, his most since the 2016 season

5: Times leading the most laps in a season in his IndyCar career, including four of the last five seasons

What does a championship season look like for him?
These games do not work for Team Penske drivers. We know what a championship season looks like for Josef Newgarden. He has done it twice. Worst of all for him is he has been on the doorstep the last three years. What does a near-championship season look like for him? 

It is falling 16 points short of Scott Dixon with 34 points dropped due to stalling on one pit stop costing him a victory at Road America. It is having the gearbox cease up while leading on a restart with two laps to go at Road America, falling to 21st while Álex Palou takes the victory, causing a 52-point swing and Newgarden ultimately falling 38 points behind the Spaniard Palou at the end of that season. It is starting a season with four finishes outside the top ten in the first six races, erasing the benefit of two victories but then going on a tear over the summer only to have a suspension failure while dominating at Iowa rip the championship lead from his hands and forcing him to claw his way back into the championship picture but find himself 16 points short again. 

We know Newgarden can win races and find himself regularly on the podium, but in recent seasons it is one devastating result, usually while he is in a leading position, that costs him.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
All three Penske drivers can be champion. Newgarden has finished in the top two of the championship in four consecutive seasons, five of the last six and he has seven consecutive championship top five finishes. IndyCar is a tough series. There is a world where he ends up sixth or maybe even seventh if things do not go right for him and it goes phenomenally well for others. I do not see that happening, but what are the odds he finishes in the top two for a fifth consecutive season? 

His teammate just won the championship with one race victory. Newgarden has had multiple victories in seven of the last eight seasons. He has won at least one oval race in seven consecutive seasons. In three of the last four seasons he has won multiple oval races. Last year, he won three.

For any other driver, Newgarden is going to have a great season in 2023, but, for Newgarden, there is a chance it will still not be enough. 

Scott McLaughlin - #3 DEX Imaging/XPEL/Snap-On/Pennzoil/Sonsio Chevrolet
Numbers to Remember:
8.9746: Improvement in average starting position from 2021 to 2022

4.2983: Improvement in average finishing position from 2021 to 2022

10: Improvement in championship finish position from 2021 to 2022

What does a championship season look like for him?
McLaughlin is the only of the three Penske drivers without an IndyCar championship, but he has been champion before across the Pacific. It is the same song, different verse for the New Zealander, and he was on the right track with the tune in 2022. 

What he must avoid is that early slog that set him behind in the championship. He started lovely in 2022, but lost his way after opening with a victory and a runner-up finish. Four of the next five events were finishes outside the top ten, three of those outside the top fifteen. If he can sprinkle a few more top tens and at least one more top five in that stretch, combined with how he ended the season, one victory, four podium finishes, five top fives and his worst finish being sixth over the final six races, McLaughlin will primed to be the 11th different driver to win an IndyCar championship for Team Penske.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
We all expected McLaughlin to improve in 2022 from a respectable rookie season in 2021. I am not sure any of us saw him winning three times and all three victories being emphatic displays of dominance. If that was year two for him, there is no limit on what he can do in year three. 

McLaughlin is still new to IndyCar, and he has two of the toughest teammates in the business to race against. Not improving is not a failure, even slight regression would not be shameful. Top ten in the championship feels guaranteed, but where he is placed really comes down to the competition. Does McLaren fire up the championship? Does Andretti rediscover its form? Is there a surprise front-runner? 

McLaughlin could be on his game, win three races again, clean up his poor results and win the championship, or the competition could rise, knock McLaughlin down in a few areas, limit him to only one victory or possibly none but with a smattering of podium finishes and leave McLaughlin eighth in the championship and wondering how this season was not better. It is a wide range of possibility for this driver.

Will Power - #12 Verizon Chevrolet
Numbers to Remember:
4: Pole positions in the final seven races of the 2022 season

2: Pole positions in Power's prior 26 appearances

5.9412: Average finish in 2022, Power's best in a full season

What does a championship season look like for him?
Like Newgarden, Power has done this twice, but both years have been drastically different. In 2014, Power won the season opener, won three races total and was never lower than second in the championship. In 2022, Power had five top five finishes to open his season, a personal best streak for him to start a season, but yo-yoed with his championship position, took the championship lead with his one victory, fell back to second but then used consistent podium finishes to regain the lead with four races remaining and see out the title. 

Power has a record of losing championship as well. That has been long established, but it has been over a decade since Power coughed up a championship. In recent years, it has been little things that has put him down early and kept him down during the season. The minor mechanical meltdown has been attracted to the Australian over the last few seasons. Driveshaft failures, jumbled up gearboxes, a loose motor, things out of the driver's hands. He escaped those woes in 2022, proving when the machinery is reliable Power is as dangerous as they come. 

What does a realistic season look like for him?
The truth is Power's 2022 results likely will not be enough in 2023. Power's brilliant form will at least get him a top five position in the championship. That 2022 season is the bread and butter of Hélio Castroneves' final seasons with Penske. In Castroneves' final six full season with Penske, he won five times in 101 races but his championship finishes in that span were fourth, second, second, fifth, third and fourth. He did have 26 podium finishes in that run.

In the same way we must question the odds of Newgarden ending up in the top two of the championship for a fifth consecutive year, what are the odds Power will finish on the podium in over half the races for a second consecutive year? What are the odds one victory will be enough for the championship for a second consecutive year when Power became the first champion with only a single victory since Tony Stewart 25 years prior? 

Power's 2023 will ebb and flow. He can improve his victory total, maybe even jumping to three or four victories, but his podium total could decrease. In turn, his championship position could drop as well, or it could be enough for a second consecutive championship and third overall. Overlooked from Power's second championship is it came a year after 2021 saw his worst average finish in a full IndyCar season. It is still Will Power. He will at worst be good, but that will not be enough for satisfaction. 

The 2023 NTT IndyCar Series begins on Sunday March 5 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. NBC and Peacock will have coverage of the race starting at noon.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Special in Name Only

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Tony Kanaan announced that this May will be his final time competing in an IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500. A tiebreaker decided what team would get a 24 Hours of Le Mans invite. A few more Formula One liveries were unveiled. A few errors nearly decided the Supercross race in Oakland. There were a few repeat winners at Daytona. Conor Daly may have had the greatest Thursday of his career, but it is the entire week that is on my mind...

Special in Name Only
For the 65th time, the Daytona 500 took place, NASCAR's biggest race. It opened another Cup season and for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and JTG Daugherty Racing it became a memorable day. Still a significant event and a race every driver wants to win, but this year Daytona became something it should never be, just another event. Truth be told, it has been trending in that direction for quite some time.

Speedweeks has been reduced to five days. There was no practice session before Wednesday night's qualifying session. Conor Daly could not completely a qualifying run because of an oil line issue. Chandler Smith, the first qualifier of the night, had his car break down as he roll off of pit lane for his warm-up lap. Both those drivers were pigeonholed into having to race in to the Daytona 500 without have a chance to be one of the fastest two Open entries or at least having a chance to establish a time that could be enough to fall back on. Even worse is Daly's car was out of balance on the pace laps for the second qualifying race, clearly not up to standard to race, and his Daytona 500 hopes looked practically daed before he could even complete a lap at speed. 

Fortunately for Daly, Austin Hill and Travis Pastrana were both caught in an accident in that qualifying race, allowing Daly to slip into the Daytona 500 as the top Open entry in that race and then proceed to finish the Daytona 500 six laps down.

This year's format was an abomination to motorsports. Even the locked in teams were looking for some practice ahead of qualifying. Instead, the first time the cars took to the track with other entries was in Thursday night's qualifying races. Don't worry. After a pair of 60-lap races, and once the 40 entries were set, the teams got two 50-minute practices split over Friday and Saturday ahead of Sunday's race. For the biggest race of the season, NASCAR should want its teams most prepared and competing at their highest level, not winging it and hoping everything works. 

Beyond being the Daytona 500, this race has lost much of what made it special. Ninety percent of the spots are guaranteed. Each qualifying race is determining one position apiece. The buildup is more a charade before race day, repeating the motions because it has been done this way for over six decades even though these steps no longer matter. 

If this is NASCAR's biggest race, NASCAR should treat it as such, and it shouldn't afraid of it being different. This is the series that will develop a special package to run one dirt race but cannot find a way to have at least one more 50-minute practice session. 

Everything around the Daytona 500 used to have meaning. The qualifying races weren't just a 60-lap warm-up that happened to set the grid. A driver couldn't afford a bad day. Outside of the front row and a handful of other drivers that qualified at the front, no one could feel safe with their qualifying time alone. Even those in the middle of the field had to feel pressure to perform on Thursday knowing there was a possibility they could miss NASCAR's biggest race. 

Failure is a great motivator. It isn't as abundant as it should be leading up to the Daytona 500. 

NASCAR keeps reverting back to the way things used to be in a few other areas of the schedule. The Southern 500 moved back to Labor Day weekend in 2015. A dirt race is back on the Cup schedule after nearly 50 years without one. North Wilkesboro will be back after being dilapidated for 25 years! What is old is new again, and the same can be true for the Daytona 500. 

Thirty-five races can look the same, but the Daytona 500 should have its own identity. It should be the one race where nobody is locked in. It doesn't matter if it is a Chartered team or an Open team. All 40 spots are up for grabs. The Chartered teams will still get the money even if they miss, but they aren't assured a spot in the race. They have 35 other races plus the Clash they get to compete in. For Daytona, they have to earn it. 

Qualifying would matter. Only the top two would make it, but all those qualifying runs would carry weight. A top ten run would likely be enough to fall back on, but someone who qualifies 25th could be in a dicey situation if the qualifying race does not go as planned. And the qualifying races would be more than riding around, single-file around the bottom for 50 of 60 laps. Drivers couldn't afford to lose the pack. 

The original Daytona 500 qualifying method still works in the 2020s, and people would understand it. Qualifying locks in the front row. The top fifteen finishers in each qualifying race fill in rows two through 16. The remaining eight spots would be for the fastest eight drivers that did not race in during the qualifying races. 

It would at least add some tension to each session. A poor qualifying run could allow doubt to drift into a team's head. A team could overthink the qualifying race and find it on the outside. The qualifying races would at least be worth viewing. For the better part of the last decade it has been for one spot in each race and that battle for those final two Daytona 500 spots has usually been anti-climatic or been at the very back of the pack, sometimes seconds behind the lead pack. In this case it would be throughout the entire field. 

The current format disincentivizes trying to attempt the Daytona 500. If you are in an Open entry, you are competing for one of four spots. Hélio Castroneves hoped to attempt the Daytona 500 this year but the lack of practice combined with driving for a one-off team while only having four spots to fight for is a turnoff for any driver interested in giving it a shot. It is more appealing to try and run at Martinsville or Gateway or Loudon. At least a driver would get some practice laps before having to make a qualifying run.

NASCAR should want the Daytona 500 to be a destination race for the best drivers from other series. It should want a half-dozen one-off entries with drivers from many different disciplines competing along with the normal five or six NASCAR regulars running part-time or only attempting Daytona. To do that it must make the drivers feel like they have a fair shot at competing, not have it be a crapshoot that a team will have the car just right for one qualifying lap and a 60-lap race right off the truck in hopes of claiming one of four spots available. 

The Daytona 500 should feel different but for more than its six-plus decades of history. That history was established through a system that gave the small teams hope and could humble the large organizations. That should still be the case in 2023, and frankly it would be better than what we have been seeing for the last decade, especially this past Wednesday and Thursday. 

Taking away the guarantee would only make the buildup better, For Daytona to be special, it should mean something to make the race, not be a given, and adding some practice would only be fair to everyone making an attempt.

Champions From the Weekend

The #3 DKR Engineering Oreca-Gibson of Salih Yoluç, Charlie Eastwood and Ayhancan Güven clinched the Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with its victory in the season finale at Yas Marina Circuit.

The #8 Graff Racing Ligier-Nissan of François Heriau, Xavier Lloveras and Fabrice Rossello clinched the ALMS LMP3 championship with its victory in the season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, winning the championship on tiebreaker over the #29 MV2S Racing Ligier-Nissan of Jérôme de Sadeleer, Viacheslav Gutak and Fabien Lavergne. 

The #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW of Nicky Catsburg, Chandler Hull and Thomas Merrill clinched the ALMS GT championship

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and some of what happened in the Asian Le Mans Series, but did you know...

Austin Hill won the Grand National Series race from Daytona. Zane Smith won a rain-shortened Truck race.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race at Oakland, his third victory of the season.

The #37 COOL Racing Oreca-Gibson of Alexandre Coigny and Malthe Jakobsen won the first ALMS race at Abu Dhabi. The #4 Nielsen Racing Ligier-Nissan of Matt Bell and Tony Wells won in LMP3. The #7 Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG of Al Faisal Al Zubair, Martin Konrad and Luca Stolz swept the ALMS races in the GT class.

Coming Up This Weekend
Fontana has its final race on the two-mile oval.
Formula E visits another new country, this time it is South Africa for the Cape Town ePrix.
Also taking place in South Africa, the Kyalami 9 Hour, the second Intercontinental GT Challenge round of the season.
Supercross will be in Arlington, Texas.
World Superbike opens its season at Phillip Island.

Friday, February 17, 2023

2023 IndyCar Team Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

And then there were two. Two IndyCar team previews remain and we are now only 16 days until the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season opener from the streets of Long Beach. Dale Coyne Racing has won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg twice, one of only three times to win this event multiple times. Not even Chip Ganassi Racing has done that. The chances of a third St. Petersburg triumph lie in the hands of IndyCar's two youngest drivers, as Coyne looks to end a five-year winless drought.

At First Glance... That is a lot of youth in one team
One driver was born September 3, 2001. The other driver was born 24 days later. The two youngest drivers on the IndyCar grid in 2023 will be teammates, setting up a combination that could either leave us hopeful for IndyCar's future or a trail of carbon fiber straight to Dallara's front door. 

David Malukas is the veteran despite being the youngest driver in the team. In 17 races, Malukas rarely put a wheel wrong. Outside a few accidents early in the season and contact while battling for a top five position in Nashville, Malukas did the minimum any rookie could do: Bring the car home in one piece more times than not. Not only was he bringing the car home but he was completing all the laps. There were his three retirements but the only other races he finished a lap down were the first Iowa race and the Laguna Seca finale. 

He completed 1,257 of 1,258 laps on ovals, including all 200 at Indianapolis and was the top finishing rookie though honors went to another driver. Malukas' best result was a charging finish to second at Gateway while pressuring Josef Newgarden all the way to the checkered flag. All of Malukas' best days came on ovals. He went from 19th to 11th at Texas with three laps led in his second career start and he was eighth in the second Iowa race, spending much of the day in the top ten. His only top ten finish on a road/street course was at Mid-Ohio. For all his success, there is much room for growth. 

Enter Sting Ray Robb, a Road to Indy driver that has been far from exceptional. Robb has gotten results after some time in each of the development series. It took him 49 races to win in Indy Pro 2000. He had one top five finish in his first Indy Lights season and it took him 33 races to win in the second-tier series. Last year's Indy Lights field was not overflowing with talent. The IndyCar grid is much quicker than where Robb is coming from. 

This is a teetering driver lineup. Two young drivers will either work out shockingly well or be a mess. Neither driver has a senior teammate to lean on. Add to it Malukas will have a new engineer in Alex Athanasiadis, and most of this team will be learning together. If this team gets lost at any point the Coyne organization could be in for a long season. 

2022 Dale Coyne Racing Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Gateway)
Poles: 0
Best Starting Position: 2nd (Belle Isle)
Championship Finishes: 16th (David Malukas), 19th (Takuma Sato)

David Malukas - #18 Honda
Numbers to Remember:
4: Races where Malukas finished better than his starting position in 2022

3: Of those four races were oval events.

10.2: Average finish on ovals in 2022

What does a championship season look like for him?
Improvement takes place across the board, but a championship is built off the back of Malukas' oval results. Every oval race is a top five finish, and he wins at least two of them. That is only five races though, and where we notice Malukas the most is on the road and street courses. He makes the second round of qualifying in majority of the races, aiding his improved results. 

Malukas finds himself getting on the podium in at least three races along with a total of six top five finishes and eight top ten finishes on road/street courses. The last portion of the season is what takes him over the top. He gets a victory at Gateway that starts his ride to the championship. A pair of podium results at Portland and Laguna Seca take him over the top and complete an improbable championship season.  

What does a realistic season look like for him?
I think we will see Malukas right where he finished in 2022. Dale Coyne Racing can get some good results, but I don't think it can replicate what it did in 2017 and 2018 with Sébastien Bourdais. Every team has improved and most have done more than Coyne. There is too much uncertainty to think Coyne can take a pair of 21-year-old drivers and turn them into championship top ten drivers.

There are three Penske entries, three full-time Ganassi entries, three McLaren entries, four Andretti entries and three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries. That is 16 cars. Malukas would need to top two of those to break the top fifteen and that isn't factoring in the pair of Ed Carpenter Racing and pair of Meyer Shank Racing entries. Malukas will be in that middle third of the field, but could fall into that bottom third if results aren't as strong as 2022. Five top ten finishes could be the best he and Coyne can hope for.

Sting Ray Robb - #18 Honda
Numbers to Remember:
95: Road to Indy starts

8: Road to Indy victories

26: Road to Indy podium finishes

19: Of those 26 podium finishes occurred in two seasons (2020 Indy Pro 2000 and 2022 Indy Lights)

What does a championship season look like for him?
We find out this is actually Robb's third or fourth IndyCar season and after about 34 to 50 IndyCar starts he has finally gotten a handle of all these tracks in an IndyCar. The season starts with a run of podium finishes. Robb keeps up his run with a top ten streak over the first seven races, but he doesn't win until Mid-Ohio. A few more top ten finishes follow before he wins for a second time on the IMS road course. He enters the Laguna Seca finally needing a victory and a little bit of help to take the championship and the one time it actually works it is in this case. Robb wins the race and gets the help needed to take the Astor Cup.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
I expect this season to look like pretty much Robb's first seasons in the other two Road to Indy series he contested. Nothing flashy, nothing remarkable and Robb finishing at the back of the championship. This will be a tough season for him. This field is significantly better than any grid he has raced against before. Combined with the Coyne entry, every race will be a uphill fight for Robb. 

Anything inside the top twenty would be impressive, but there is a good chance he will be outside the top twenty. The expectation is for there to be 25 full-time drivers. At least five drivers will finish outside the top twenty in that case. At best I think Robb could get one or two top ten finishes. Top five finishes in normal racing circumstances is almost unfathomable to think about. Very few rookies blow the doors off the competition from the jump. I don't see Robb being a revelation this year. He is almost competing just to get a sophomore season. 

The 2023 NTT IndyCar Series begins on Sunday March 5 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. NBC and Peacock will have coverage of the race starting at noon.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

75 Drivers... 7,500 Words

Anytime a milestone year is reached for any entity, we love to create lists as a way to pay tribute but also to quickly summarize the past. Best this, most memorable that. It boils down decades of history into something you can swallow on your commute or while you sit on a toilet. 

This is NASCAR's 75th Cup season. Twenty-five years ago, NASCAR released a list of its Greatest 50 Drivers in honor of its golden anniversary. The Athletic has done its own exercise this year, a four-part series looking at the greatest 75 Cup drivers in honor of this anniversary season. It is easy to read a list and dismiss, but if it so simple, why don't you just put one together yourself? 

That is what we have here today. The 75 greatest NASCAR Cup Series drivers. It is not as easy as you think. You can only have ten drivers in the top ten. If you have 20 surefire top ten locks, you are going to have some difficult choices to make. 

The Athletic had a panel of 26 individuals put together this list, and the interpretation of the greatest drivers is different for everyone. When considering this list, I took it as the best 75 NASCAR Cup Series competitors, taking into consideration what those drivers did winning races, competing for championships and their overall performance and acciomplishments on track in the Cup Series. 

NASCAR has evolved immensely since 1949. Championship positions once were not as meaningful as race victories. However, today, championship positions carry more weight as 80% of the drivers run in all the races. It is a delicate game to balance careers over the different eras. 

Seventy-four drivers have won at least seven NASCAR Cup races. No driver currently sits on six career victories. The remaining 129 NASCAR Cup Series race winners have five victories or fewer. 

Race victories do leave a nice dividing point for a list such as this one, but it is not as simple as taking those 74 winners and then picking the best of the remaining 129. 

This list will go over all 75 drivers selected as the best in NASCAR Cup history. Each driver will get a 100-word explanation (no more, no less) for their inclusion on this list. Drivers will be presented in descending order from 75th to first. 

75. Wendell Scott
Scott's legacy will be remembered as an African American driver competing, and winning, at NASCAR's highest level during the Jim Crow era. Despite facing greater hostility than ever other driver he competed against, Scott made 495 Cup starts, winning once. He had 147 top ten finishes, and his top ten percentage of 29.7% is still ranked 100th all-time, better than the likes of Jamie McMurray, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Labonte and Alex Bowman. Scott's career average finish was 15.061 is 53rd all-time, better than Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond, Martin Truex, Jr., Buddy Baker, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kurt Busch. 

74. James Hylton
Most people recall Hylton as being the gentleman who attempted to make the Daytona 500 multiple times after turning 70 years old, but Hylton's career should be more than an anecdote. He is one of ten drivers to finish runner-up in the championship three times. Eight times Hylton was the in the championship top five, more than Kyle Busch, Dale Jarrett and Matt Kenseth. He is 31st in career average finish at 13.525, better than Junior Johnson, Carl Edwards, Busch and Mark Martin. He is one of 35 drivers to have top ten finishes in at least half his starts.

73. Ryan Blaney
Seven career victories help Blaney make this list, but he has six consecutive top ten championship finishes. In seven full Cup seasons, he has as many top ten championship finishes as Greg Biffle, Geoffrey Bodine, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Sterling Marlin and Martin Truex, Jr. Blaney's top five finishing percentage of 22.59% is 60th in Cup history, better than Ernie Irvan, Truex, Jr., Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott and Kurt Busch. Blaney has had at least ten top five finishes in the last four seasons. He has led over 300 laps in six consecutive seasons and over 600 laps three times.

72. Dan Gurney
Gurney only made 16 NASCAR Cup Series starts and he won five of them. All five of those victories were at Riverside, but these weren't races he snuck out. Gurney entered against NASCAR's best and dominated these races. He led 120 of 185 laps in 1963, 142 of 185 in 1964, 126 of 185 in 1965, 148 of 185 in 1966 and 124 of 186 in 1968. He entered against NASCAR's best and blew them out of the water. He was also fifth in the 1963 Daytona 500, one position ahead of Richard Petty and three ahead of Joe Weatherly.

71. Marshall Teague
Teague made the Fabulous Hudson Hornet famous. He only made 23 starts over the first four NASCAR Cup seasons, but he won five of 15 starts in 1951, including on Daytona Beach. He won two more times in 1952, but he soon left NASCAR after a dispute with NASCAR founder Bill France. Despite not running any of the final seven seasons of the 1950s, Teague ranked 15th in laps led that decade with 1,025. His seven victories still left him tied for 13th at that time. Teague lost his life February 22, 1959 at Daytona International Speedway in a speed record attempt.

70. Kyle Petty
The third generation of Petty, Kyle Petty entered the NASCAR Cup Series at 19 years old with only an ARCA start at Daytona to his name. He was ninth on debut at Talladega. Success did not come with the family team. He won with the Wood Brothers, including a Coca-Cola 600, and he won with SABCO Racing. Three of his eight victories were from pole position at Rockingham. Twice Petty finished in the top five of the championship, including having a shot at the title in the famous 1992 Atlanta finale. He was in the championship top ten five times.

69. A.J. Foyt
Known for IndyCar racing, NASCAR was just another place where A.J. Foyt triumphed. He won seven times in 128 starts, a winning percentage of 5.468%, 45th best among drivers with at least 100 Cup starts, and better than Bill Elliott, Martin Truex, Jr., Neil Bonnett, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin. Foyt won in his tenth career start, the 1964 Firecracker 400. Foyt won the 1972 Daytona 500 with 167 laps led. Foyt and Mario Andretti are the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. Five of Foyt's seven victories were 500-mile races, including at Riverside in 1970.

68. Paul Goldsmith
Goldsmith famously won the Daytona 200 motorcycle race in 1953, but three years later he would make his first NASCAR Cup start. He won his eighth start in 1956. He won four times the following season and won at Daytona Beach in 1958, the final race on the sand. Eight years later, he won three more times and was fifth in the championship. Goldsmith's winning percentage of 7.09% is still 34th all-time. He is 28th all-time in top five finish percentage at 34.65%, better than Davey Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, LeeRoy Yarbrough and Kevin Harvick.

67. Darel Dieringer
Dieringer's best championship finish was third in 1965 behind Ned Jarrett and Dick Hutcherson. Dieringer's most famous victory was the 1966 Southern 500 driving for Bud Moore. Dieringer defeated Richard Petty, passing Petty with seven laps remaining. Both driver led over 100 laps. It made up for arguably Dieringer's greatest defeat the year prior at Darlington. He led 199 laps only for a broken differential to take him out of the lead with 39 laps to go. He still finished third! Dieringer ranks 57th in winning percentage, 51st in top five finish percentage and 55th in top ten finish percentage.

66. Cotton Owens
Before becoming a champion car owner, Owens had a respectable driving career. He was championship runner-up in the 1959 season to Lee Petty. He won nine times in 160 starts. His first victory was at Daytona Beach. A winning percentage of 5.63% is still 43rd all-time, ahead of Matt Kenseth, Foyt, Elliott, Truex, Jr. and Bonnett. Owens had 50 top five finishes, a top five finish percentage of 32.5%, putting him 35th all-time and ahead of Donnie Allison, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart. His top ten finish percentage of 52.5% is 30th, better than Denny Hamlin and Martin.

65. Bob Welborn
Welborn only once had a representative year towards the championship. He was fourth in 1955. He won nine times in NASCAR Cup Series competition, putting Welborn 49th all-time in career winning percentage directly ahead of Dale Jarrett, Ernie Irvan, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch. With 31.69% of his starts being top five finishes, he ranks ahaed of Kevin Harvick and Martin in that category. Even better, Welborn had 102 top ten finishes in 183 starts. His top ten finish percentage of 55.74% is 18th all-time, directly ahead of Kyle Busch, Bobby Isaac, Jim Paschal, Jimmie Johnson, Harvick and Fonty Flock. 

64. Sterling Marlin
It took Marlin 279 starts to score his first career victory, which came in the Daytona 500. Victory number two for Marlin came a year later in the same event, and 1995 was the first of two seasons where Marlin finished third in the championship. A broken neck late in the 2002 season ended a possible championship run. Marlin had led the championship after 25 of the first 29 races. He is one of 63 drivers with at least ten Cup victories. Along with two Daytona 500s, he won the Firecracker 400 once, twice at Talladega and twice at Darlington.

63. Clint Bowyer
Another one of those 63 drivers with at least ten victories, Bowyer ended up finishing in the championship top five twice in his first three seasons. In 2012, he was runner-up in the championship after winning three races. Bowyer is one of 46 drivers with at least three seasons finishing in the championship top five, and he is one of 50 drivers with at least six top ten championship finishes. He had multiple victories at Loudon, Richmond, and Talladega. He finished in the top ten in 41.774% of his starts, ahead of Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Terry Labonte. 

62. Kasey Kahne
Kahne had an eye-opening start to his Cup career. Five runner-up finishes as a rookie, including in a photo finish in his second start. His first victory came in his sophomore season, In year three, he won six times, including in the Coca-Cola 600. Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 two more times, making him one of eight drivers to win NASCAR's longest race at least three times. Kahne's 18th and final Cup victory came in the Brickyard 400, leaving him tied for 48th all-time. Despite a thrilling start to his career, he only once finished in the championship top five.

61. Donnie Allison
Most known for his accident, and subsequent fight with Cale Yarborough at the finish of the 1979 Daytona 500, Allison only ran more than 20 races in a season once in his career. He won ten times in 242 starts. His 4.13% career winning percentage is better than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Benny Parsons and Harry Gant. Allison is 34th in career top five finish percentage at 32.23%, better than Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano, and 43rd all-time in career top ten finish percentage at 47.52%, better than Matt Kenseth, Junior Johnson and LeeRoy Yarborough. 

60. Alan Kulwicki
In perhaps the greatest season in NASCAR Cup Series history, Kulwicki won an improbable championship as an owner-driver over Bill Elliott and Junior Johnson, and Davey Allison and Robert Yates Racing. The engineering mastermind, Kulwicki found a way to make the most of what his team had to compete with the powerhouse teams. He only won five times in his Cup career, two of those in his championship season, but his average finish of 10.6 was the best during that 1992 season. His average starting position was also 10.6 that season, and he led the series with six pole positions.

59. Geoffrey Bodine
The man responsible for Hendrick Motorsports' first NASCAR Cup Series victory, Bodine took his modified prowess and turned into victories across multiple track disciplines at the Cup level. He won at Riverside, he won the 1986 Daytona 500 after a tense battle with Dale Earnhardt, he won four times at Martinsville, lapped the field at North Wilkesboro and won the final Cup race at the Nashville Fairgrounds. Twice did Bodine finish in the championship top five. He is one of 43 drivers with 100 top ten finishes in a Cup career. His final four victories came as an owner-driver.

58. Ryan Newman
One of the best qualifiers in NASCAR Cup Series history, Newman won 51 pole positions, one of nine drivers to break the half-century mark in the category. Qualifying aside, Newman won 18 times in Cup competition, including eight times in his sophomore season in 2003. His biggest victory was the 50th Daytona 500, Team Penske's first victory in the historic event. Newman would later add a Brickyard 400 victory. Only once would Newamn finish in the championship top five, he was second in 2014, but he did have seven top ten championship finishes, including in his first four full-time seasons.

57. Tim Richmond
In only eight seasons competing in NASCAR Cup competition, Richmond left an impression, and became one of the biggest personalities NASCAR has ever seen. Richmond won 13 times in 185 starts, a winning percentage of 7.027%, still 36th best. He was a road course ace before it was cool, winning five times on road courses while also winning four times at Pocono, a Firecracker 400 and a Southern 500. He was third in the 1986 championship, but Richmond's career was cut short after contracting AIDS. Richmond died on August 13, 1989, just under two years after his final Cup start.

56. Dick Rathman
In five Cup seasons, Rathman finished in the championship top ten four times with three of those being championship top five finishes. Rathman is one of 22 drivers with a career winning percentage above 10%. He is fourth all-time in career top five finish percentage at 53.49%, and one of seven drivers to finish in the top five in over half his starts, and Rathman is 11th all-time in career top ten finish percentage at 61.24%, better than Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon. Rathman's career average finish of 10.783 is eighth all-time ahead of David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Petty.

55. Greg Biffle
Biffle won 19 times in his NASCAR Cup career. His first career victory came in the 2003 Firecracker 400, but two of his victories were in the Southern 500. He also won three consecutive Homestead races. With six victories in 2006, he was runner-up to the championship to Jimmie Johnson, but he had a great run to the championship in 2008, only to finish third. Biffle was in the championship top five on three occasions. His winning percentage of 3.69% ranks 60th all-time, better than Kasey Kahne, Geoffrey Bodine, Bobby Labonte, Buddy Baker, Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman and Terry Labonte.

54. Jeff Burton
One of 42 drivers with at least 20 career victories, Burton won the inaugural Texas race and he remains the most recent winner to lead every lap in a race, coming at Loudon in 2000. He also won the Coca-Cola 600 twice and Southern 500, albeit a rain-shortened race in 1999. The Virginia-native also won at Martinsville and Richmond, Rockingham, Dover and he won the 2000 Firecracker 400. Burton had four consecutive top five championship finishes from 1997 to 2000 and he had eight top ten championship finishes, one of 33 drivers with at least eight top ten championship finishes.  

53. Neil Bonnett
With a career highlighted by two Coca-Cola 600 victories and one in the Southern 500, Bonnett ranks 48th all-time in career winning percentage at 4.97%. In 362 starts, he had 156 top ten finishes, 43.09% of his starts, ranking him 56th. His only top five championship finish was fourth in 1985, and he had three top ten championship finishes, but Bonnett only competed in four full seasons, mostly running part-time driving for the Wood Brothers and then having injuries interrupt his career, forcing Bonnett into retirement. He attempted a comeback in 1994 but lost his life in Daytona 500 practice.

52. Dick Hutcherson
Hutcherson only competed in four NASCAR Cup Series season. In 1965, he was second in the championship with nine victories. He won three races in 14 starts the following year before finishing third in the championship in 1967. He won 14 races, but his winning percentage of 13.59% has him tenth all-time, ahead of Lee Petty, Fonty Flock and Jimmie Johnson. Hutcherson has the best top five finish percentage in NASCAR Cup history at 62.14%, second best top ten finish percentage at 70.87% behind only Lee Petty and Hutcherson is second in average finish at 8.67, only behind Lee Petty.

51. LeeRoy Yarbrough
Another driver with 14 career victories, Yarbrough's best season was in 1969 where he won seven of 30 starts, but he also became the first driver to win NASCAR's Triple Crown. He won the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 that season. He also swept the Darlington races and Daytona races that year. His 7.07% career winning percentage ranks 35th all-time while his top five finish percentage ranks 34th at 32.83%. He is 46th in top ten finish percentage at the fitting 46.46%. His average starting position was 10.495, ranking him 27th, better than Jeff Gordon and Chase Elliott.

50. Ricky Rudd
Only four drivers have finished in the championship top ten at least 19 times. Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt are the top three. Ricky Rudd is fourth! Five times Rudd finished in the championship top five. He also won a race in 16 consecutive seasons from 1983 to 1998 with the final five seasons of that streak being as an owner-driver. He won six times on road courses while also winning the Brickyard 400, the only owner-driver to win that race. His 906 starts are second most in NASCAR Cup history and the most in the Modern Era.

49. Jim Paschal
A forgotten name, Paschal is one of 35 drivers with at least 25 Cup Series victories. Paschal won three times at Martinsville and his most famous victory was the 1967 World 600 with Paschal leading a then-record 335 of 400 laps. He only finished in the championship top five once, but he had ten top ten championship finishes, including in five consecutive seasons from 1953 to 1957. He is one of 22 drivers with at least ten top ten championship finishes. Paschal's top five finish percentage is 35.39%, 27th all-time, and his top ten finish percentage is 54.63%, 21st all-time.

48. Ernie Irvan
Injuries plagued Irvan's career. His 1994 season ended that August after a practice accident at Michigan. Up to that point, he had been no lower than second in the championship that season. His only championship top five finish was in 1991, a year highlighted by his Daytona 500 victory. He returned to full-time competition in 1996, won at Loudon and Richmond, and cracked tenth in the championship, his fourth top ten championship finish. But another serious accident at Michigan ended his career in 1999. Irvan is still tied for 50th all-time in career winning percentage at 4.79% with Dale Jarrett. 

47. Buddy Baker
A career that spanned five decades, Baker was masterful on large speedways with nine of his 19 victories coming on tracks two miles or greater in length. He won the Coca-Cola 600 three times, the Southern 500 once and his 1980 Daytona 500 victory remains the fastest Daytona 500 to date. He also won four times at Talladega. Only once did he finish in the championship top five. He had only five championship top ten results. His top five finish percentage is tied with Brad Keselowski for 45th at 28.86% but better than Rusty Wallace, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.

46. Marvin Panch
Panch's most famous victory in the 1961 Daytona 500 came after teammate Fireball Roberts lost his Pontiac engine while leading with 13 laps remaining, but Panch won 17 times in 216 starts, a winning percentage of 7.87%, putting him 28th all-time, right ahead of Denny Hamlin, Rusty Wallace and Kevin Harvick. Panch is 16th in top five finish percentage and top ten finish percentage at 44.444% and 58.33% respectively. He has the 14th best average finish at 11.676. In only two seasons did he finish in the top five of the championship, but he was runner-up in the 1957 season.

45. Jack Smith
Smith won 21 times in his Cup career, including the second Firecracker 250 from Daytona as well as having won at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro and Bristol. His winning percentage of 7.95% is still 26th best in NASCAR Cup history, better than Tony Stewart, Panch, and Denny Hamlin. He was in the championship top ten five times in a six-season stretch, which included three times finishing in the championship top five. He ranks 18th in average finish at 12.398, better than Jeff Gordon, 25th in top five finish percentage at 35.98% and 26th in top ten finish percentage at 53.79%.

44. Speedy Thompson
Thompson was third in the championship in four consecutive seasons (1956 to 1959). Thompson is one of 35 drivers with at least four top five championship finishes. Those four seasons were the only times he ran more than 20 races in a season. The 1957 Southern 500 winner, Thompson is 21st in career winning percentage at 10.15%, better than Dick Rathman, Davey Allison and Kyle Busch, 20th in top five finish percentage at 39.09%, better than Buck Baker and Junior Johnson, 28th in top ten finish percentage at 53.3%, better than Fred Lorenzen, and 15th in average finish at 11.888.

43. Bobby Labonte
The 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Labonte excelled on intermediate ovals over the late 1990s and early 2000s. He won five times at Atlanta, twice at Charlotte, including a Coca-Cola 600, and once at Homestead. He also won the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 in 2000. However, only twice did Labonte finish in the championship top five, second in 1999 and first in 2000. He had seven top ten championship finishes, but none in his final ten seasons as a regular competitor, finishing outside the top twenty in eight of them. His career ended on a 363-race winless drought.

42. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
NASCAR’s most popular driver, Earnhardt, Jr. was the face of the Cup Series at the start of the 21st century. Famous victories at Daytona, including two Daytona 500 victories, and Talladega will be shared for decades to come. His winning percentage is 55th all-time at 4.12%. He did finish in the top five of the championship four times, but only had seven top ten championship finishes and he finished outside the top twenty in the championship twice during the prime of his career. Concussions sidelined him twice in a season, and forced Earnhardt, Jr. into retirement at 42 years old.

41. Harry Gant
Gant's first full Cup season came when he was 40 years old, but in 15 seasons he was in the championship top five in six seasons, one of 25 drivers with at least six championship top five finishes. He had more championship top five finishes than Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. Gant was in the championship top ten in eight seasons, more than Bobby Labonte. He is one of 50 drivers with a top five finish percentage above 25%. Gant won the Southern 500 twice, including in a four-race winning streak in 1991, earning him the nickname "Mr. September."

40. Curtis Turner
Turner was one of NASCAR’s first star drivers. He won the fourth race in Cup history and won the second Cup race ever held at Martinsville the following season. He ranked in the championship top ten in four of Cup’s first six seasons. Turner’s biggest victory was the 1956 Southern 500, and his 9.24% winning percentage remains 25th all-time. Turner’s career was interrupted to due labor disputes with NASCAR founder Bill France. Turner was banned for three seasons due to him organizing a drivers’ union. He returned in 1965 and won his seventh race back, the inaugural Rockingham race

39. Fonty Flock
Flock finished in the championship top five in four of the NASCAR Cup Series’ first five seasons. Eleven of his 19 victories came from pole position, including his victory in the third Southern 500 run in 1952. He is still 12th in career winning percentage at 12.34%, ahead of Jimmie Johnson, 12th in top five finish percentage at 46.75%, ahead of Joe Weatherly and Cale Yarborough, and he is 16th in average finish at 12.149, better than Jeff Gordon, Yarborough, and Kevin Harvick. He is second all-time in average starting position at 5.427, only behind Dick Hutcherson's average of 4.874.

38. Chase Elliott
The first champion of the 2020s, Elliott has never finished worse than tenth in the championship in seven full seasons. He has four top five championship finishes. With 18 victories, his winning percentage is currently at 7%, 37th all-time. He is currently one of 33 drivers to have top five finishes in at least a third of his starts, and one of three active drivers over that mark along with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Elliott has finished in the top ten of 53.31% of his starts, the third best active driver behind only Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

37. Kyle Larson
The 2021 champion, Larson had one of the best seasons in NASCAR’s Modern Era that year, winning ten races, which included the Coca-Cola 600, Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Bristol and the Charlotte roval. With a winning percentage of 6.44%, he is 39th all-time, 42nd in top five finish percentage at 30.17% ahead of Joey Logano, and he has finished in the top ten in 49.49% of his starts, ranking him 37th all-time ahead of Carl Edwards, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Davey Allison and Brad Keselowski. In nine seasons, he has finished in the top ten of the championship six times.

36. Kurt Busch
The first champion of the Chase/Playoff era, Busch sits 25th all-time in victories with 34, above Fireball Roberts, Dale Jarrett and Joey Logano. He won a race in 19 of 22 seasons, which include victories in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600. Busch also won six times at Bristol. He won the Cup championship in his fifth season, but he only had three top five championship finishes in his career. Anger issues did cost him a ride with Team Penske and left him suspended on multiple occasions. A concussion suffered at Pocono in 2022 ended Busch’s full-time driving career. 

35. Bobby Isaac
Isaac only ran for the championship in three seasons. His championship results those years was second, sixth and first with three, 17 and 11 victories in those respective seasons. Twenty-one of his 37 career victories came from pole position, and his winning percentage remains 15th all-time at 12.01%, ahead of Bobby Allison, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Joe Weatherly. With an average starting position of 6.305, Isaac ranks sixth all-time in that category. Isaac’s top five finish percentage of 43.51% is 17th, ahead of Earnhardt and Gordon, and Isaac is 20th in top ten finish percentage at 55.19%.

34. Benny Parsons
The 1973 champion, Parsons finished in the championship top five in nine consecutive seasons from 1972 to 1980. He was in the championship top ten for ten consecutive seasons when including 1981. His nine top five championship finishes are the tenth most in Cup history. He won the 1975 Daytona 500 and 1980 World 600. His 37.83% top five finish rate is 23rd all-time and he is 25th in top ten finish percentage at 53.8%. He is one of 24 drivers to average a top ten starting spot over a career, ranking 20th with an average grid position of 9.259.
33. Brad Keselowski
The first lap Keselowski led in his Cup career was the final lap at Talladega in the spring of 2009. That upset victory with Phoenix Racing led to a full-time ride with Team Penske. At the end of 2012, he was Cup champion. His 35 victories have Keselowski 24th all-time. He has won the Southern 500, Brickyard 400 and Coca-Cola 600. A winning percentage of 7.22% has him 33rd all-time in that category above Paul Goldsmith and LeeRoy Yarbrough. He is 46th all-time in top five finish percentage at 28.66%, ahead of Rusty Wallace, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. 

32. Carl Edwards
Though he retired at 37 years old, Edwards is 30th in victories with 28. In 12 full seasons, he finished in the championship top five six times, including two runner-up finishes and losing the 2011 title on tiebreaker to Tony Stewart. Edwards has eight top ten championship finishes, more than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman. He won both the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 in 2015. He is 40th all-time in winning percentage at 6.29%, just behind Kyle Larson. His career average finish of 13.533 is better than Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

31. Mark Martin
Only one driver has finished runner-up in the championship more times than Martin. The biggest difference is Richard Petty won seven titles and Martin won none. He was runner-up in 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2009. He was championship runner-up in his 30s, 40s and 50s. One of only 20 drivers to win at least 40 races, Martin won the Southern 500 twice and the Coca-Cola 600 once. He finished in the top ten of 51.36% of his starts and his average finish of 12.139 is better than Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Davey Allison, Tim Richmond and Harry Gant.

30. Fred Lorenzen
Ranked fifth all-time in career winning percentage, Lorenzen won 16.46% of his starts, 28 victories leaving him tied for 32nd all-time. He won the World 600 twice, Daytona 500 once and he won six times at Martinsville and three times at Bristol. He had 75 top five finishes in 158 starts, a hit rate of 47.47%, leaving him eighth all-time in that category, ahead of Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Joe Weatherly and Cale Yarborough. He was third in the 1963 championship. His average starting position of 6.389 ranks seventh all-time. His 32 pole positions has him tied for 23rd all-time.

29. Martin Truex, Jr.
A late bloomer, Truex, Jr. is one of 29 drivers with at least 30 Cup victories. After winning only twice in his first 333 starts, the New Jerseyan has won 29 of his last 288 starts. A career winning percentage of 4.99% has him 47th all-time. He won the Coca-Cola 600 twice and the Southern 500 once. Truex, Jr. ranks 19th in laps led with 11,293, more laps led than Ned Jarrett, Kurt Busch, Buddy Baker and Brad Keselowski. Along with his 2017 championship, Truex, Jr. has been championship runner-up three times and he has five top five championship finishes. 

28. Terry Labonte
Labonte is one of only seven drivers to win championships in multiple decades and he is the only driver to go over ten years between championships. His first and final victories were both in the Southern 500. He won four times at North Wilkesboro, twice at Rockingham, twice at Riverside and twice at Bristol. Labonte is one of only twenty drivers with at least seven top five championship finishes, including a four consecutive year stretch from 1981 to 1984. His 17 championship top ten finishes is tied for the seventh most all-time. Labonte ranks third all-time in starts with 890.

27. Rex White
White was the 1960 Cup champion. He won 28 times in 233 starts, 12.02% winning percentage has him 14th all-time. He won six times at Bowman Gray Stadium, the most Cup victories at the track. White had six consecutive top ten championship finishes, which included three top five championship results on the spin from 1960 to 1962. He is ninth all-time in top five finish percentage at 47.21%, better than Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Fonty Flock, Joe Weatherly, Cale Yarborough and Fireball Roberts. He is third in top ten finish percentage at 69.96% and third in average finish at 8.983.

26. Joey Logano
The latest multi-time Cup champion, Logano's second title came when he was 32 years old and in his 14th full season in Cup. He has won 31 times, including a Daytona 500 victory while also winning the first dirt race in NASCAR's Modern Era at Bristol in 2021. Logano's winning percentage of 6.11% ranks 41st all-time. He has finished in the top ten of 50.69% of his starts. Logano has six top five championship finishes, more than Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. Logano's nine top ten ten championship finishes is level with David Pearson and Cale Yarborough.

25. Dale Jarrett
Jarrett's only championship came in 1999, but he was in the top five of the championship in six consecutive seasons from 1996 to 2001 and he had seven top five championship finishes in his career. Jarrett won 32 times, which included three Daytona 500 victories, one of six drivers to win that event at least three times. In 1996, he won the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400. He added a second Brickyard 400 in 1999. He is tied for 50th in career winning percentage at 4.79% ahead of Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Donnie Allison and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

24. Rusty Wallace
Wallace is 11th all-time in victories with 55. He won the 1989 championship. He ranks 30th in winning percentage at 7.79% while ranking 47th in top five finish percentage at 28.61%. Though only winning one title, Wallace was in the top five of the championship seven times, including finishing second in 1993 to Dale Earnhardt with ten victories that season. Wallace is one of ten drivers to finish in the championship top ten at least 17 times. While he won 55 times, 40% of his victories came at three tracks (Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond). He won the 1990 Coca-Cola 600.

23. Davey Allison
Allison's career was cut short after a fatal helicopter accident in the summer of 1993. He only won 19 races, but his career winning percentage is 9.95%, 23rd all-time. He is 29th in top five finish percentage at 34.55%, 41st in top ten finish percentage at 48.17% and 43rd in average finish at 14.251. Allison nearly won the championship in the 1992 Atlanta finale but was caught in an accident while leading the championship at that moment in the race. Allison is he ranked seventh in victories for the 1990s though he missed the final six-plus seasons of that decade.

22. Bill Elliott
With a winning percentage of 5.31%, Elliott ranks 46th all-time in career winning percentage. His 44 victories has him 19th all-time. A quarter of his victories came in the 1985 season, which included victories in the Daytona 500 and Southern 500. He added another Daytona 500 in 1987 and two more Southern 500s in 1988 and 1994. He had six consecutive championship top five finishes and eight total in his career. However, Elliott went winless in seven seasons when full-time, and only won five times in his final 11 seasons. His career top ten finish percentage is 38.65%, 78th all-time. 

21. Matt Kenseth
The final champion in a full season aggregate system, Kenseth was in the championship top five in seven seasons and he had 13 top ten championship seasons, Kenseth's winning percentage is 5.6%, 44th all-time, and among his 39 career victories are two Daytona 500 victories, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500 victory. He is also the winner of the most recent Rockingham race. Kenseth ranks 49th in top five finish percentage at 26.11% and 44th in top ten finish percentage at 47.49%. He is also 17th in laps led with 11,769, 356 more than Bill Elliott and Martin Truex, Jr. 

20. Fireball Roberts
Roberts won 33 times in 206 Cup starts over 1950 to 1964, a winning percentage of 16.02% ranks sixth all-time. He won the 1962 Daytona 500 and the Southern 500 twice. He also won at Soldier Field in Chicago. Roberts' top five percentage was 45.15%, 15th all-time, better than Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon while Roberts is 14th in top ten finish percentage at 59.22%, better than Buck Baker and Cale Yarborough. His best championship finish was second in 1950, his rookie season, and Roberts was in the championship top five in three seasons with six top ten championship finishes. 

19. Junior Johnson
Johnson's 50 victories remains the most for a driver without a championship. He is one of 14 drivers to reach the half-century mark in victories. Thirteen of his 50 victories came in the 1965 season, his penultimate season. He retired at the age of 35. Johnson won 15.97% of his starts, seventh all-time. He never finished in the championship top five, but he was in the top ten of the championship four times. His average starting position of 7.183 remains ninth best all-time. His 13,021 laps led is 14th all-time and more than Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

18. Denny Hamlin
Another title-less driver, Hamlin has won 48 Cup races, the second most without a championship, but he has finished in the top five of the championship eight times and he has been in the championship top ten in 14 of his 17 full seasons. He has won the Daytona 500 three times, the Southern 500 three times and the Coca-Cola 600 once. His winning percentage is 7.82% is 29th all-time ahead of Rusty Wallace and Kevin Harvick. He is 31st in top five finish percentage at 33.88%, better than Jimmie Johnson, and 31st in top ten finish percentage at 52.28%.

17. Tony Stewart
Stewart is one of nine drivers to win at least three NASCAR Cup Series championship. He is 15th all-time in victories, falling one short of the half-century mark, and he won a race in 16 of his 18 seasons. Among his 49 victories are two Brickyard 400 triumphs and he won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona four times, but Stewart never won the Daytona 500 nor the Southern 500 nor the Coca-Cola 600. He only had five championship top five finishes, three of which were in his first four seasons. He did finish 13 times in the championship top ten. 

16. Buck Baker
The first driver to win consecutive Cup championships, Baker won 46 times in a career that spanned from the very first Cup race in 1949 at Charlotte Speedway to the 1,189th Cup race, the 1976 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Baker won the Southern 500 three times. He broke double-figure victories in both his championship seasons, and those titles fell in a stretch of eight consecutive championship top five finishes. He had more championship top five finishes than Dale Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Cale Yarborough. His 58.58% top ten finish percentage is still 15th all-time.

15. Joe Weatherly
Weatherly won consecutive Cup championships in 1962 and 1963 only to lose his life in the fifth race of the 1964 season at Riverside. He won 25 times in his career, one of nine drivers with at least 25 Cup victories at the end of the 1963 season. His winning percentage of 10.87% is 19th all-time, better than Darrell Waltrip. His top five finish percentage of 45.65% is 13th, ahead of Cale Yarborough and Fireball Roberts. Weatherly's top ten finish percentage is seventh all-time at 66.52%, better David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt. His average finish is seventh all-time at 10.052.

14. Lee Petty
The first three-time champion, Lee Petty accomplished many firsts. He was the first Daytona 500 winner, the first driver to 50 career victories. Petty remains first in top ten finish percentage at 77.75% and first in average finish at 7.602. He is third in top five finish percentage at 54.10%. His winning percentage is 11th at 12.65%. Petty was in the championship top five in the first 11 NASCAR Cup seasons and, in his 12 representative seasons, his worst championship finish was sixth. He is one of nine to finish in the championship top five in at least 11 seasons.

13. Tim Flock
Flock won the Cup title in 1952 and 1955 and won 39 times in 187 starts, tied for 21st in victories with Matt Kenseth. Flock remains second all-time in career winning percentage at 20.86%. He won twice at Daytona Beach while also winning at Martinsville, Langhorne, North Wilkesboro and Road America. He is second in top five finish percentage at 54.55%, fourth in top ten finish percentage at 68.98% and he is one of six drivers to have a career average finish below 10.0 at 9.465. He has the fourth best average starting position at 6.222, better than David Pearson. 

12. Herb Thomas
The first multi-time Cup champion, Thomas is the all-time leader in career winning percentage at 20.96%. He won 48 times in 228 starts, which included two victories in the Southern 500. From 1951 to 1956 he finished first, second, first, second, fifth and second in the championship. He was the first multi-time champion and the first driver to finish championship runner-up on three occasions and he did both within NASCAR's first eight seasons. Thomas is fifth in career top five finish percentage at 53.28%, fifth in career top ten finish percentage at 68.12% and fourth in average finish at 9.018.

11. Kyle Busch
One of ten drivers with at least 60 victories, Busch has won two championships while he leads all active full-time drivers with a winning percentage at 9.35%, 24th all-time, top five finish percentage at 36.76%, 24th all-time, and top ten finish percentage at 55.3%, 19th all-time. Busch has won a race in all 18 full seasons of his Cup career. He has won the Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 twice. He has won the Bristol dirt race and eight times on a paved Bristol circuit. He has eight championship top five finishes and 13 championship top ten finishes.

10. Kevin Harvick
Harvick and Busch are tied on 60 career victories, but Busch has two championships to Harvick's one, however, Harvick has finished in the championship top five on 13 occasions, tied for the third most with Mark Martin, only behind Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Harvick is one of ten drivers with at least 17 top ten championship finishes. He won the Daytona 500, two Southern 500s, two Coca-Cola 600 and three Brickyard 400s. He has the most victories at Phoenix with nine. Harvick is 11th all-time in laps led with 15,901 laps led. His average finish is 12.699, 22nd all-time. 

9. Bobby Allison
One of seven drivers to win over 80 races in Cup competition, Allison won the Southern 500 four times, third most in that event and he is one of six drivers with at least three Daytona 500 victories. Allison won the World 600 twice. His only Cup championship was in 1983, but Allison was in the championship top five in 11 seasons. He was in the championship top ten in 18 seasons, fifth all-time in that category. Allison is tied for fifth in pole positions with 59. He led the third most laps in Cup history with 27,556 laps led.

8. Ned Jarrett
Jarrett competed regularly in seven seasons from 1959 to 1965. In that period, nobody won more races than Jarrett. He won 50 times, ten more victories than Richard Petty. Jarrett ranked third all-time in victories for the 1960s and he didn't compete in three and a half seasons. Jarrett is ninth in career winning percentage at 14.2%, sixth in top five finish percentage at 52.56% and sixth in top ten finish percentage at 67.9%. Jarrett's average finish of 9.153 is fifth. He is one of 21 drivers to have led over 10,000 laps in a career with 10,358 laps led.

7. Darrell Waltrip
Along with Bobby Allison, Waltrip is one of two drivers to have won 84 races in a career. Waltrip won three championships and had 12 top five championship finishes. He and Allison are also tied on top ten championship finishes, each with 18. Waltrip is 20th in career winning percentage at 10.38%. He won the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and he won five World/Coca-Cola 600s, the most all-time. Waltrip is the all-time leader in victories at Bristol with 12. He led 23,134 laps in his career, seventh all-time. Waltrip and Allison are tied on pole positions, each with 59.

6. Cale Yarborough
The first driver to win three consecutive championships, Yarborough did not become a regular Cup driver until he was 34 years old. From 1973 to 1980, Yarborough had seven championship top five finishes and his worst championship result was ninth. In 1981, Yarborough returned to part-time competition, yet he had multi-victory seasons in the next five years. He won four Daytona 500s in three different decades. He won five Southern 500s in three different decades. He is eighth in winning percentage at 14.82% and second in laps led with 31,556, one of two drivers to lead more than 30,000 laps.

5. Dale Earnhardt
A seven-time champion, Earnhardt is a part of a three-way tie for most Cup championships. He won 76 times, winning each the Southern 500 and Coca-Cola 600 three times while also winning a Brickyard 400 and Daytona 500. He is 18th in career winning percentage at 11.24%. He finished in the top ten in 63.31% of his starts, putting him ninth all-time and he ranks tenth in average finish at 11.061. Earnhardt ranks fourth all-time in laps led with 25,714. He was in the championship top five 14 times and his 20 top ten championship finishes are the third most.

4. Richard Petty
Petty was the first seven-time champion, but he is also the all-time leader in Cup victories with 200. He won the most Daytona 500s, fittingly with seven. He won the World 600 twice and Southern 500 once. Petty is the all-time leader in victories at Daytona, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro and Richmond. His 20 top five championship finishes and 25 top ten championship finishes are the most in each category. His winning percentage of 16.89% is fourth best. He has the tenth best top five finish percentage at 46.88%. Petty led 51,514 laps, nearly 20,000 more than Cale Yarborough in second.

3. Jeff Gordon
Gordon won 93 races in NASCAR's Modern Era, the most victories since 1972. In those 93 victories, he won three Daytona 500s, six Southern 500s, the most all-time, three Coca-Cola 600s and five Brickyard 400s, the most all-time. His nine road course victories are the most in Cup history. His 11.55% winning percentage is 17th, just ahead of Dale Earnhardt. Gordon is 19th in top five finish percentage at 40.37%. He is also 19th in average finish at 12.509. Along with four championships, Gordon had 11 top five championship finishes and 21 top ten championship finishes, second to Richard Petty.

2. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson won seven championships in a 19-season career. All seven of those titles came within 11 seasons. Johnson won five consecutive titles from 2006 to 2010, joining Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win at least three consecutive championships. Johnson and Yarborough are tied on 83 victories. Johnson won the Daytona 500 twice, Southern 500 twice, Coca-Cola 600 thrice and Brickyard 400 four times. He has the most victories at Dover, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Texas and Fontana. His 12.1% winning percentage is 13th and his 54.52% top ten finish percentage is 22nd. He had 12 top five championship finishes.

1. David Pearson
Pearson ran 30 race or more in a season five times. He won three titles in those seasons. His 105 victories are second to Richard Petty, but Pearson's winning percentage is better, third all-time at 18.29%. Pearson's top five finish percentage is seventh all-time at 52.44%. His top ten finish percentage is eighth all-time at 63.76%. His average finish of 11.033 is ninth, directly ahead of Dale Earnhardt and Petty. He led 25,422 laps, fifth all-time. Pearson has the most Darlington victories with ten, three of which were Southern 500s. He won the World 600 thrice and one Daytona 500.