Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. could help lead to something that hasn’t happened in the Cup Series since 1996.
If either of those three or Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon or Joey Logano — drivers who have also collected a win so far this season — win at Michigan on Sunday, the 2018 season’s six winners through the first 15 races will be the fewest winners in that span in 22 years.
Busch and Harvick have hogged victory lane so far, combining for nine wins through 14 races. Add Truex to the mix and you’ve got three drivers accounting for 11 wins in 14 races with just one each for Bowyer, Dillon and Logano
In 1996, the wins were spread around a little more evenly among the six winners. Jeff Gordon was the season’s dominant driver with five wins in the first 15 races. Rusty Wallace had three. But Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Sterling Marlin each had two wins. Terry Labonte was the only early-season winner who won just once in the first 15 races.
While NASCAR’s rules may have the entire field closer together than it was 22 years ago, there’s a big disparity in victory lane. And disparities even remotely approaching this level haven’t happened all that frequently in the 21 seasons between 1996 and 2018.
If a winless driver like Kyle Larson wins on Sunday — he’s won the last three races at Michigan — it will be just the fourth time since 1996 that a season’s first 15 races have featured seven different winners. Just once has a season in that span (1998) featured eight different winners in 15 races. Nine winners has happened six times.
The most common number of winners in the first 15 races is 10. It’s happened seven times, and quite oddly, in each of the last four seasons. That streak of 10 winners in 15 races means that 2018 is the first time in NASCAR’s win-and-you’re-in playoff format that the first 15 races haven’t featured 10 different winners.
If Harvick and Busch and Truex continue to win often, the 16-driver playoff field is going to be filled with lots of winless drivers and may turn into a 13-driver battle for one available spot in the championship race at Homestead. And given those three finished in the top four on Sunday at Pocono, their dominance doesn’t show many signs of weakening anytime soon.
Number of winners through the first 15 races from 1997-2017
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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