Friday 5: Will any other Cup drivers surpass Dale Earnhardt’s 76 career wins?
Will anyone else surpass Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 76 career Cup victories? Will 60 career wins become the new milestone for Cup drivers to achieve?
As NASCAR seeks a competitive balance in the Next Gen car era, the significant marks that defined the sport may no longer be within reach for today’s stars.
Jeff Gordon made the thought of another Cup driver scoring 100 career victories seem possible before finishing his career with 93. No one has come close since. And likely won’t.
So, what are the numbers for drivers to chase?
With victories, it might be a total that just gets them into the top 10 on the all-time list.
Earnhardt ranks eighth on the all-time Cup wins list. Kyle Busch is next with 63 victories. Kevin Harvick is 10th with 60 career wins.
With Busch in the top 10, can he top Earnhardt’s total?
Busch has not had more than four wins in a season in the last four years — an average of 1.75 victories a year in that span. At that rate, the 38-year-old Busch would need about 7½ seasons to tie Earnhardt. That would be 2031.
Busch won three races this past season in his first year at Richard Childress Racing. If he can keep that pace, he would need only a little more than four more seasons to tie Earnhardt.
After Busch, who might be the next driver to challenge Earnhardt’s mark? It could be years before it happens — if it does.
Joey Logano, who is 33 years old, has 32 career Cup wins in 15 seasons (an average of 2.1 wins a season).
He had only one win in his first three seasons, scoring the other 32 victories in the last 12 years (an average of 2.6 wins per season). Using that rate, he would score another 26 wins over the next decade, putting him at 58 career wins at age 43.
In the last 10 seasons, Logano has 29 wins, giving him an average of 2.9 victories per season. That rate would give him 29 more wins in the next decade — putting him at 61 Cup wins by the time he’s 43 years old.
Kyle Larson, who is 31 years old, has 23 career Cup victories in nine full-time seasons. That’s an average of 2.6 wins a year. At that rate, he would need 14.2 seasons to reach 60 wins. Since he has been at Hendrick Motorsports, Larson has 17 wins in three seasons. At that rate (5.6 wins a year), he would reach 60 in 6.6 seasons (2030).
Chase Elliott — who turns 28 on Nov. 28 — has 18 career Cup wins in eight seasons. That’s an average of 2.25 wins a year. Take out his first two winless seasons and his 18 wins have come in six seasons — an average of three wins per year. At that rate, Elliott would score 48 more wins in the next 16 seasons. That would give him 66 wins before he turns 44 years old in 2039. Still short of Earnhardt’s total.
William Byron — who turns 26 on Nov. 29 — has 10 Cup victories after a career-high six-win season. He has scored those wins over the past four seasons for an average of 2.5 victories per year. At that rate, Byron would have 45 more victories before he turns 44 in 2041. That would put him at 55 Cup wins.
Some team or driver could dominate a season but it should be noted that Larson’s 10-win season in 2021— the first such season since 2007 — came in the final year of the former car. In the two seasons of the Next Gen car, the most wins a driver had in a season was six (this year with Byron) and five (last year with Elliott).
With that type of balance among winners and NASCAR’s desire to keep the competition as close as possible, it could be hard for any driver to string together the number of wins in a season they’ll need to reach Earnhardt’s total.
In his state of the sport address to the media earlier this month at Phoenix, NASCAR President Steve Phelps noted how there were 15 different winners in Cup this season and 10 of the 16 organizations won a race.
“That’s incredible,” he said.
2. Consecutive start streak
Jeff Gordon owns the record with 797 consecutive starts from Nov. 15, 1992 - Nov. 22. 2015.
Ricky Rudd is next with 788 consecutive starts from Jan. 11, 1981 - Nov. 20, 2005.
Third is Kevin Harvick with 784 consecutive starts from April 21, 2002 - Nov. 5, 2023.
It could be awhile before someone reaches those marks.
Now that Harvick has retired from full-time Cup completion, the active driver with the longest consecutive start streak is Martin Truex Jr. He has 648 consecutive starts, beginning Feb. 19, 2006. Truex would need to run four more seasons and part of a fifth to reach Gordon’s mark. The 43-year-old Truex is not likely to be racing by then.
After Truex, the next active driver is Joey Logano. He has started 540 consecutive races since Feb. 15, 2009. He would need to run 7.1 more seasons without missing a start to break Gordon’s mark. That would be the 2031 season.
William Byron has made 216 consecutive starts. The 25-year-old has not missed a race since moving to Cup in 2018. He would need to run 16.1 more seasons to break Gordon’s mark. He would do so in the 2040 season.
3. Career starts
Kevin Harvick finished his Cup career with 826 starts, putting him eighth on the all-time list, two behind Bill Elliott and three behind Kyle Petty.
Kyle Busch now has the most Cup starts among full-time active drivers. He has 678 starts. He would need only 4.1 seasons to top Harvick’s total provided the season remains 36 points races a year. At age 38, Busch seems likely to reach that total without any issues.
Once Busch passes Harvick, Elliott and Petty, next would be Mark Martin, who is fifth on the list with 882 starts.
Busch would need 5.7 seasons to reach Martin’s total. No one will catch Richard Petty’s 1,184 starts. He’s followed by Ricky Rudd (906 starts), Terry Labonte (890), Dave Marcis (883) and Martin.
Busch could move past Rudd in 6.3 seasons. That would occur in the 2030 season.
Next among full-time active drivers is Martin Truex Jr. at 657 career starts and Denny Hamlin at 650.
After them is Joey Logano at 507 starts. He wouldn’t top Rudd’s total until early in the 2034 season.
4. Consecutive years with a win
Kyle Busch broke his tie this season with Richard Petty when he won for the 19th consecutive season.
Joey Logano is next among active full-time Cup drivers with 12 consecutive seasons with a win. Should Busch not win in 2024 — not likely — Logano wouldn’t tie Busch’s mark until 2030.
Cup champion Ryan Blaney would have to win at least once in the next 18 seasons to get to where Busch is now. That would be 2041.
Christopher Bell has won at least one win in each of the past three years. He would need 16 more seasons (2039) just to reach where Busch is now.
5. Top-10 finishes
Richard Petty holds the record with 712, a total that will never be caught.
Jeff Gordon is next at 477. He’s followed by Mark Martin (453), Bobby Allison (447) and Kevin Harvick (444).
So what would it take for any driver to surpass Gordon and move into second place?
Kyle Busch has 372 career top-10 finishes, putting him 105 behind Gordon. Busch has averaged about 20 top-10 finishes in his career. He would need a little more than five seasons to move past Gordon.
Denny Hamlin is next among active drivers. He has 340 career top 10s — an average of 18.9 per season. Hamlin, who turns 43 on Saturday, would need more than seven seasons at his career rate to top Gordon. Hamlin would need about 5.5 seasons to surpass Harvick and move into the top five.
Joey Logano has 274 career top-10 finishes in 15 seasons for an average of 18.3 per season. At that rate, he would need 9.3 seasons to reach Harvick’s total and a little over 11 seasons to top Gordon. That would put Logano on pace to do so in 2034.
Chase Elliott has 152 top 10s in eight full-time seasons, an average of 19 per season. At that rate, it wouldn’t be until the 2041 season that he would top Gordon’s mark. Elliott could reach Harvick’s total in the 2039 season.