The path to 16 regular season winners – NASCAR Talk


With six races to go in the regular season, 14 drivers have won wins and, most likely, playoff berths. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex, Jr. are third and fourth in points, but their lack of wins puts them in the 15th and 16th seeds. Two new winners in the remaining six races – which brings us to 16 regular season winners – would rule both drivers out of the playoffs.

Unless, of course, it’s the pilots who win.


It’s happened before, but rarely

There have never been more than 16 winners per race 26.

Only twice in NASCAR Cup Series history have 16 different drivers won in the first 26 races of the year: in 1961 (when five new winners took the checkered flag in races 22-26) and again in 2003.

Fifteen different drivers winning in the first 26 races is quite rare too: it happened in 2001, 2002 and 2011.

As it relates to today, 2022 is only the fifth time in Cup Series history that 14 different drivers have won races in the 20th race of the season. The last three seasons with 14 winners in 20 races were 2011, 2003 and 2002. The first occurrence was in 1950, when there were only 19 races in the entire season.

Having so many different winners is a recent phenomenon. The 1970s never saw more than 10 winners per race number 20. In 1974, four drivers won 29 of 30 races. Those days are long gone.

I will therefore concentrate my analysis on the last seasons. The graph below shows the number of winners after 20 races in green and the number of winners after 26 races in grey. The values ​​displayed are the number of winners from race 20.

The probability of 16 different drivers winning a regular season race in 2022 depends on whether there are two (or more) new winners in the next six races. Since 2000, the new winners of races 21 to 26 ranged from zero to three.

  • There has been no new winner in three of the 22 seasons considered (13.6%).
  • Eight previous seasons had a new winner (36.4%).
  • Seven seasons had two new winners (31.8%).
  • There were three new four-time winners (18.1%).

These numbers suggest a high probability of at least 15 winners by the time the carriers leave Daytona. Of the previous 22 seasons, 86.4% had at least one new winner in races 21-26. The last six seasons have each had at least one new winner in the last six races of the regular season.

Of the three seasons on the chart with 14 winners at race 20 – as there are in 2022 – two had one new winner and one had two new winners.

However, the only seasons with three new winners are those with 11 or less winners per race 20. Thus, the probability of having 17 different season winners is quite low.

There are only a limited number of competitive drivers.

Who is left to win?

Coming to Pocono, 13 full-time drivers with Cup Series wins have not won in 2022. Career wins are noted in parentheses.

Five other full-time riders are yet to earn their first victories: Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon, Todd Gilliland, Corey LaJoie and Cody Ware.

I compiled the same stats going back to 2014, the first year of the “win and you’re in” playoff format. I was generous in counting full-time riders without a win, including any rider who attempted to race most of a season, even if he didn’t qualify for every race.

In the chart below I show drivers with at least one Cup Series win but no season wins from race 20 in yellow. Drivers without Cup Series wins are shown in blue.

A vertical bar graph showing the number of drivers who have yet to win each year from 2014 to 2022

The number of winning drivers who have yet to win a race in 2022 is about average, meaning the pool of possible winners is comparable to previous years.

But with five drivers already claiming their first Cup Series victories this year, 2022 offers the fewest number of opportunities for more first-time winners. I wouldn’t count Ty Dillon or Corey LaJoie as contenders for the end-of-season regular-season Daytona race — especially if the drivers get aggressive early and the DNF total climbs.

An underdog winner can increase the number of regular season winners, but remember that drivers outside the top 30 points are not eligible for the playoffs.

Who is likely to win?

I have yet to mention a small, but not insignificant, group of possible winners: part-time drivers who target races they have a realistic chance of winning. By small, I mean primarily AJ Allmendinger.

The table below shows the 13 tracks that have hosted races number 21 to 26 over the past eight seasons.

  • A yellow square means the track hosted a race that year.
  • A red X means the track produced a first winner that year.
  • I have highlighted in red the names of the tracks hosting the final races of this year’s regular season.

In 2020, Michigan and Dover held back-to-back races, which is why only four tracks are highlighted that year.

A table showing the tracks and new winners of the last six races of the 2014–21 regular season

The last two columns show the number of new winners in the last six races of the regular season and the number of those winners who took their first wins.

Over the past eight years, 13 drivers have won their first wins of the season in races 21-26. Two of those victories were for Allmendinger: at Watkins Glen in 2014 (when racing full-time) and last year as the first Indianapolis Grand Prix winner.

An Allmendinger victory would bring the total closer to the 16 winners threshold, but would not affect the playoffs. Allmendinger can’t earn points in the Cup Series this year.

The new winners of the last eight seasons have come from 10 different tracks. Five of those tracks are included in the next six races of 2022. Pocono and Watkins Glen have produced new winners about a third of the time. Daytona did it once out of two races and Michigan once out of nine races. The Indianapolis road course is one for one.

The sixth track on this year’s calendar, Richmond, did not host a first-time winner at its fall race during this period, despite being the last race of the regular season at five. occasions.

The pessimist in me notes that six of the 13 new winners on the board were also first-time Cup Series winners. The ranks of never-earned drivers are down this year, which means new winners must come from the pool of veteran winners.

The optimist counters that this year is the first time we have had two road courses and a superspeedway in the final six races of the regular season under this playoff format. With half of the remaining races on tracks ripe for new winners, the likelihood of seeing a new winner increases.

And, of course, there’s the Next Gen car, which presented technical challenges but also brought some unexpected names to the fore in recent fields. Optimists and pessimists alike agree, however, that the numbers suggest sixteen regular-season winners are within reach.