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.