Nascar: The Cup Champion

The 2019 NASCAR Season ended Sunday. Kyle Busch was crowned with his second Cup Championship. Busch is a worthy champion. He accumulated enough points in the format currently used to make the final four, and then won the race he had to win. But, did he really have the best year? That answer is pretty clear. He didn’t.

For the 2019 season Kyle Busch started all 36 races. He won 5, finished top 5 in 17, top 10 in 27, and finished 1582 laps with the lead.

This is a fine record, but Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin’s seasons were both better.

Truex won 7, finished top 5 in 15, top 10 in 24 and led 1371 laps.

Hamlin won 6, finished top 5 in 19, top 10 in 24 and led 922 laps.

So in the most important category, wins, Busch was third behind both his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. He also finished behind Hamlin in the second most important category, top 5s. Busch did lead in the least important stat, laps led, but the main goal for any driver is to win races, not lead the most laps.

So, in the current format, is it unusual for the driver who had the best season to not win the Cup. We’ll give you the numbers since the title was decided in the current format in 2014. Here’s the numbers.


 Champion: Joey Logano       Wins, 3 Top 5s, 13, Top 10s, 26, Laps led,  934

 Others:      Kevin Harvick      Wins, 8 Top 5s, 23, Top 10s, 29, Laps led, 1990 

                   Kyle Busch          Wins, 8 Top 5s, 22, Top 10s, 21, Laps led, 1469

It’s also clear that Martin Truex, Jr. had a better year, but not as good as Harvick or Busch.

In 2017 the most deserving driver did win the Cup. Martin Truex, Jr won eight races, three more than his nearest pursuer, Kyle Busch, with five. 

2016 saw Jimmie Johnson win his record tying 7th Cup Championship. He did lead the field in wins with five, but four other drivers won four, and another three drivers won three. In all other categories Johnson was well behind his competitors, finishing 6th in Top 5s, 11th in Top 10s, and 6th in Laps Led. He won utilizing the format in place at the time, but if we used the formula in place during the times of the other two seven times Champions (Richard Petty and Dale Earnhart) he would not have won.

In 2015 Kyle Busch broke his leg early in the season, missed 11 races, but still came back to capture the Cup, winning five races in his short season, which was one short of Joey Logano’s series leading six. In the other important categories he was well behind, finishing tied for 6th in Top 5s, 11th in Top 10s, and 6th in Laps Led. It was an incredible year for Kyle, but Logano and Harvick were more deserving.

2014 was the first year of the new format, and it was probably the most controversial of them all. Six drivers finished the first 26 races just about even (Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhart, Jr.). Johnson was eliminated in the second elimination round, and then the top two drivers in points (Brad Kesellowski and Jeff Gordon) crashed battling for the lead in the final laps of the third to the last race in Texas, thus eliminating both of them from the 4-car Cup final. Included in the final four was Denny Hamlin (who won only one race during the season) and Ryan Newman (who won zero races during the season). Fortunately for NASCAR, Newman finished second in the season ending race at Homestead, and second overall, when Kevin Harvick won the final race. Harvick was a deserving Champion. 

Looking back at the Chase format in place from 2004 to 2013:

Jimmie Johnson was a deserving Champion in 2013, and also had the best season in 2012, when Brad Kaselowski won. 

2011 saw Tony Stewart win five of the last ten races to edge out Carl Edwards (in a tie-breaker). Stewart was barely in the conversation entering the 10-race Chase at the end of the season, but his five wins did lead the series, even though his other stats were well behind (tied for 7th in top 5s, tied for 4th in top 10s, and 4th in laps led).

Jimmie Johnson won his 5th straight Cup Championship in 2010, and despite finishing second to Denny Hamlin in wins, was a deserving Champion due to his other stats.

Johnson was the most deserving driver in 2009, and won the Cup, but he also won in 2008 when he should of finished second to Carl Edwards.

Johnson won an incredible ten races in 2007 and edged out his teammate, Jeff Gordon, for the title. If NASCAR was still using the formula in place prior to 2004, Gordon would have been the champion. Gordon “only” won six races, but led Johnson in Top 5s, Top 10s and laps led, and would have accumulated enough points in those races to finish ahead of Jimmie.

Johnson won his first Cup Title in 2006, and he would also have won using the old format.

In 2005 Tony Stewart won his second Championship in a close fight with Greg Biffle. Stewart would have edged Biffle using the old method, also.

The first year of the “Chase for the Cup” was a harbinger of things to come. Kurt Busch won, but his season was clearly inferior to the seasons of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhart, Jr. 

NASCAR continues to wonder why fan interest in their sport is falling. Attendance and television ratings peaked in 2004. That just so happens to be the year NASCAR went to their Chase format. We’re sure it’s only a coincidence.

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