Guest Column: Modern drivers closer to legends than you might think

By Jason Higgins (@jayjaydean)

There seems to be a strong opposition to anyone daring to compare Kyle Busch’s soon-to-be 200 NASCAR national series victories to Richard Petty’s 200 Cup wins.

But when you look at NASCAR history, including much of the time Petty raced, there’s no doubt certain Cup races meant something different than they do today.

NASCAR really became the NASCAR of today in 1972, which signified the start of the Modern Era. Before 1972, there were many more races on the Winston Cup schedule, and many of them are simply not comparable to the Cup races of today.

Every Modern Era race has had at least 28 cars in the field and a scheduled distance that took over two and a half hours to complete. It is not that difficult to go back through the records and figure out which pre-1972 races are apples-to-apples comparisons to today’s races.

Many races, like the Southern 500 and Daytona 500, are virtually the same today as they have been from their creation, and should be counted as such.

Others, though? Not so much — including many Cup races that were held on dirt.

Take Richard Petty’s 1971 season. That season, the King ran 46 out of 47 possible races and won 21 times. Let’s go through and look at how many of those wins are comparable to today’s wins:

– Daytona 500. (Obviously, yes,)
– Richmond 500. (Yes.)
– Carolina 500 (At Rockingham. Yes.)
– Hickory 276. (22 cars in the field for a race that took 88 minutes? No.)
– Columbia 200. (Short field, short race. No.)
– Maryville 200. (A 200-lap race on a half-mile that took 70 minutes? No.)
– Gwyn Staley 400. (North Wilkesboro Speedway. Yes.)
– Virginia 500. (Martinsville. Yes.)
– Asheville 300. (17 cars! No.)
– Pickens 200. (Another race barely over 80 minutes. No.)
– Albany-Saratoga 250. (This race was 90 miles long. No.)
– Islip 250. (This race was supposed to be 50 miles long but ended 20 laps short due to a scoring error. I can’t even. No.)
– Northern 300. (40 cars. Earlier versions of this race were three hours, so yes.)
– Nashville 420. (Nashville was on the schedule through 1984. Yes.)
– Dixie 500. (Atlanta…yes.)
– West Virginia 500 (Yes.)
– Sandlapper 200. (Great name, but only a 90-minute race. No.)
– Delaware 500. (The fall race at Dover. Yes.)
– American 500. (The fall race at the Rock. Yes.)
– Capital City 500. (The fall race at Richmond. Yes.)
– Texas 500. (250 laps on a 2-mile track…sound familiar? Yes.)

If I were at NASCAR, I would create a statistic called “Era-Adjusted Career Wins.” That would help fans better compare past drivers with a bit more realism.

In the case of Petty’s 1971 season, his 13 Era-Adjusted wins would still tie the Modern Era record for wins in a season (by Petty in 1975 and Jeff Gordon in 1998). I don’t think that is short-changing the King at all. In fact, since it is easy to dismiss many of the King’s pre-1972 wins with “Well, he was the only car there,” when you adjust for era and he has another one of the winningest seasons ever, doesn’t the added context make the King look even more awesome?

In addition, races that counted toward the championship before 1972 included the Daytona 500 qualifying races. To be fair, the King (amazingly) never won a Daytona qualifying race — though he did win a qualifying race for the World 600 in 1961, which counts as one of his 200 wins.

Here is an excellent example of why the NASCAR record book could stand to be addressed: Junior Johnson is listed as having won 50 races; Tony Stewart won 49.

But Johnson won three Daytona 500 qualifiers — and those races count toward his total of 50 wins. Stewart also won three Daytona 500 qualifiers — but those races do NOT count toward his total of 49 wins.

Anyway, I went through all of the previous races in NASCAR history and applied the criteria to get era-adjusted wins, and this is my current top 10:

1. Richard Petty – 116
2. Jeff Gordon – 93
3. Darrell Waltrip – 84
4. Jimmie Johnson — 83
5. Cale Yarborough – 80
6. Dale Earnhardt – 76
7. Bobby Allison – 73
8. David Pearson – 63
9. Rusty Wallace – 55
10. Kyle Busch — 52

Again, your initial reaction to that list might be “Wow, you hate Richard Petty. You took away 84 of his wins.” But seriously, do you have any idea how many wins 116 is? Jeff Gordon only got to 93. He would have to get back into the car and have Ricky Rudd’s entire career starting today to tie the King. That’s how unquestionable the King’s dominance is.

Which bring us back to Kyle Busch. No, his 200 national series wins aren’t the same as Petty’s 200 Cup wins. But when you adjust Petty’s statistics to account for difference in era, it helps to see where one of the greats of today stack up to the greats of the past.

33 Replies to “Guest Column: Modern drivers closer to legends than you might think”

  1. Duel races now give points towards the championship.

    Not sure about counting length of race is fair. Did you remove modern era wins in rain shortened races?

    The 11/15/15 Phoenix race was only 219 miles.

    1. I went by scheduled distance…rain shortened wins count. It’s not *that* hard to figure out how long a race should be just divide the pole speed by the scheduled length and add some for cautions.

  2. Totally awezome, everyone should be in awe of these drivers and their accomplishments just totally amazing and Thanks 4 the great stats!!!!

  3. Some of Kyle’s truck wins were in races of less than 100 laps.
    2015 Pocono was only 69 laps.
    2018 Pocono was only 60 laps.
    2014 Chicago was only 94 minutes.
    2019 LV was only 86 minutes.

    2016 Xfinity win at Indy was only 63 lap 69 minute race (plus 20 lap 17 minute heat race).

    If you take short races off of Petty then you should do the same for Kyle.

    1. If you notice… KB’s Truck and Xfinity wins aren’t included in the stats above… just his 52 ‘Cup’ wins… Still placing him at 10th on the all time list.

      1. Scott, I can see Ron’s point. The stats here may comparing the Cup wins but the overall debate is the 200 vs 200. So when doing that it is a legitimate debate.

    2. That kind of makes the point that kyles races are equal to Richards. If 200 is 200 with a bunch of street stock races, then 200 is 200 with some short truck races.

    3. First he only counted his cup wins. Second 80 laps on a 1/2-3/4 mile track are not the same as 80 laps on the 2 1/4 mile Tricky triangle. I’m sure that he took a look at the length of the tracks and considered that fact.

  4. Next compare the quality of competition of those races also. In the 71 Maryville race the only other somewhat big competitor was Benny Parsons. No David Pearson or Bobby Allison or Bobby Isaac. Pretty easy to add to your win total when you’re pretty much the only team not running second hand hand me down junk.

  5. I am SO sick of this discussion! I can’t wait till Busch gets this next win. Maybe then we can get back to discussing things that actually matter instead of whose wins count more? ENOUGH ALREADY!

  6. But how many of Kyles 147 truck and xfinity wins were against equal drivers or equipment. Petty ran what was the same division and did not drop too the lower divisions to get his wins. Same goes for when Kyle runs late model races. Surprise he don’t count them too. Only wins that should be counted is cup wins when compared to Petty or any of the other cup drivers. A lot of people don’t want to spent there money to go watch a major league racer race against kids with crews that are sometimes paying there own way to help a team working out of the family garage. Think that is called CHERRY PICKING WINS!!!

    1. I don’t think anyone has listened to kyle busch himself….it’s not him who compares himself to petty, it’s the media and everyone else who make these comparisons. For kyle it’s just a personal achievement, nothing more and nothing less, he doesn’t compare himself to petty….just hate it when everyone bashes kyle for the comparison they made up themselfs…
      Yes I am a great fan of busch, and I think he’s one of the greatest drivers around at this time….nothing more or less…..

    2. Kyle raced the competition, Keselowski, and some other drivers owned trucks and raced them, but don’t have the wins to show, and Onion, and Hornaday were the best, and was beat by Kyle. So he beat whoever was entered to race.

  7. Yes but was still in same division of cars. There are still cars in cup that would qualify as not equal eguipment as his. But don’t take cup quality equipment and crew members down with you to run against underfunded teams. Example take Ryan Preece or Ross Christian last year put them in equal equipment and they deliver and compete with the cup guys. Only ones that don’t want to believe it are the Kyle does no wrong fans. When Dale Sr dropped down to Busch cars they were not all that much better equipment. He lost plenty of them. Ones he won was ability not superior equipment

    1. This was not a comparison of anything outside of Cup series – not sure where other divisions in your comment are coming from other than a mention at the beginning of the article. It was a normalizing of Petty’s dataset to be more comparable to current day Cup races and wins. I think it is a very interesting perspective.

  8. Here’s the thing, I guess…

    Even though the 200 vs. 200 thing is alluded to in the article, that’s wasn’t really ever my personal point of emphasis. (In fact, I think when I originally researched this Kyle had just under 100 wins, and it started off as research about a whole different topic.)

    Really this is more about the King’s 200 Cup wins vs. Jeff Gordon’s 93 vs. David Pearson’s 105 vs. Kyle Busch’s 52.

    That, and the fact that NASCAR themselves changed the rules about what counts as a race and what doesn’t (re: the Duels not counting but the old Duels still counting) and that affects statistical comparisons over eras.

  9. Regardless of the track or distance the competitors were the best of the best in that top division not run against the youngsters in the minor leagues as Kyle himself has said its liking taking cand from babies. No comparison.

    1. Go back and look at some of the races Petty won. Fields of 16 drivers and he won by 3 laps. Not every race Petty won had a Pearson or Parson or Baker running in it. I think that too is the definition of taking candy from a baby. IMHO.

      1. So when counting Kyle’s 200 wins should we take out all the races where there wasn’t a Gordon, Johnson, Stewart etc? I mean 51 cup wins is impressive but 200 is not when it’s in a lower tier series against non Cup drivers. And for sake of argument here Kyle is in way better equipment in the lower series then most of his competitors.

  10. Richard did actually win one of the Daytona qualifying races in 1977. Of course by then they no longer counted as official wins.

  11. Busch’s Xfinity and Truck races (most of them) are like a college player against the high school and jr. high school players and equipment. Shouldn’t be included in total wins. And don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Xfinity and Truck drivers

  12. I think what was being said is you can kinda say those 84 other races were somewhat like a truck or xfinity race because they were ran like one. He still had 116 Cup wins which means his 200 would have been better.

  13. I’m more than a little tired of hearing about Kyle Busch and his 199 wins across 3 divisions. He is a well paid driver, in comparison I’ll use Richard Petty, was racing to make enough to feed his family right there is the separation between drivers of yesterday and today. There were no guaranteed pay checks or for that matter starting positions. Those teams and drivers worked their butts off to make it to events.

  14. Looking at Petty’s wins, they do not even resemble modern-day racing. Some weeks he won three races the same week, even two in consecutive days.

    They are both outstanding drivers and it’s too difficult to compare.

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