Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Time For NASCAR To Embrace The Race Among Its Big Three

Time For NASCAR To Embrace The Race Among Its Big Three
27 Jul

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, leading Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford, on July 22 in Loudon, N.H. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Because NASCAR’s “Big Three” of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 75% of Cup races this year — 15 of 20 — their dominance could be regarded as another unfortunate trend for the series, especially among non-winning drivers, sponsors and fans.

Well, the parity police need to lighten up a little because this three-driver race is getting juicy. And it is actually not so unusual. Back in 1974, the third full year of the trimmed-down Winston Cup Series, three drivers combined to win 27 of 30 races, 90%.

Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough each won 10 races, and David Pearson won seven. Bobby Allison won two races, including the season finale at Ontario, and Earl Ross, a Canadian in Junior Johnson’s Carling beer Chevrolet, won at Martinsville. Petty won the Winston Cup.

The five overall winners in 1974 are still the fewest in a season since the Winston Cup era launched in 1971. Since the Cup schedule was expanded to its current 36 races in 2001, however, there have been as few as 12 overall winners in a season only twice, in 2008 and 2015.

There have already been seven race winners this year, and with 16 races this year, there could be at least five new race winners. But there might not be: The Big Three have won eight of the last 10 races, with a combined 24 top-five finishes, so they are not slowing down.

The time has come to embrace it. Harvick (six victories), Busch (five) and Truex (four) are all former champions who are over 30, which puts a damper for now on the “Young Guns” marketing push. But the Big Three are the best product NASCAR has to offer.

More important, they give NASCAR, beset by diminishing attendance and television ratings, a narrative hook and some sizzle — a reason to buy a ticket or tune in. I’d jump all over it if I ran NASCAR, even if none of the Big Three hails from NASCARland.

Harvick knocked aside Busch late Sunday to win a race in New Hampshire. Busch said after the race that Harvick probably did not need to bump him off his line when he did, or as hard as he did, or maybe even at all, but then said, “I was in the way, so no harm, no foul.”

Busch won a race earlier in the month at Chicago by swatting aside Kyle Larson near the end, and Harvick pointed that out after the race at Loudon, saying of Busch: “I didn’t want to wreck him, but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of time behind him. It’s not like I wrecked him.”

This is developing into the toughest three-man race for the title since 2008, when Carl Edwards, Busch and Jimmie Johnson combined to win 24 of 36 races. Johnson won his third of five straight titles that year, but it was by just 69 points over Edwards, who won nine races.

Moreover, Harvick is driving a Ford, which has not won a Cup title since Kurt Busch in 2004. A Dodge has even won a title since 2004, and it got out of NASCAR in 2012, leaving the Cup to Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota, the brand hated by purists because it started in Japan.

But the Big Three of Harvick, Busch and Truex are carrying some speed into the second half of the season, and the jousting among them has developed into the season’s story line. They could carry significant leads over the rest of the field into the 10-race “playoffs.”

If it were just one guy running away with a title, that would be one thing — although, when you think about it, a Tiger Woods-like dominance of a season might not be so terrible, either. (Petty won 13 of 30 races in 1975, not to mention 27 of 49 races in 1967.)

The 2008 season was the only time in a 36-race Cup season that three drivers each won at least seven races. It is quite conceivable that Harvick, Busch and Truex could do that this year. It would be sensational if these three were in the winner-take-all season finale.

Of course, four drivers are eligible to win the title in the last race, and the fourth might not be of the same caliber as the Big Three. But it is likely that these three drivers will be pushing one another the rest of the way, providing NASCAR with a jolt as it moves into the “Young Guns” era a little later than scheduled.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davecaldwell/2018/07/26/time-for-nascar-to-embrace-the-race-among-its-big-three/


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