With six races remaining in the regular season, 14 drivers had wins and most likely playoff places. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are third and fourth in points, but their lack of a win leaves them seeded 15th and 16th. Two new winners in the remaining six races—bringing us up to 16 regular season winners—would lock both drivers out of qualifying.
Unless, of course, it’s the drivers who win.
It’s happened before, but rarely
There were no more than 16 winners in race 26.
Only twice in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series, 16 different drivers have won during the first 26 races of the year: in 1961 (when five new winners took the checkered flag in races 22 through 26) and again in 2003.
Fifteen different drivers winning the first 26 races are also very rare: they happened in 2001, 2002 and 2011.
Moving on to today, 2022 is only the fifth time in the history of the Cup Series that 14 different drivers have won races by the 20th race of the season. The last three seasons with 14 winners in 20 races were 2011, 2003 and 2002. Its debut was in 1950, when there were only 19 races in the entire season.
Having so many different winners is a recent phenomenon. The 1970s saw no more than 10 winners of the 20th race. In 1974, four drivers won 29 of the 30 races. Those days are long gone.
So I will focus my analysis on the last seasons. The chart below shows the number of winners after 20 races in green and the number of winners after 26 races in grey. The published values are the number of winners as of race 20.
The probability of 16 different drivers winning a regular season race in 2022 depends on there being two (or more) new winners in the next six races. Since 2000, the new 21-26 race winners have ranged from zero to three.
- There were no new winners in three of the 22 seasons (13.6%).
- Eight previous seasons had one new winner (36.4%).
- Seven seasons had two new winners (31.8%).
- There were three new winners four times (18.1%).
These numbers indicate 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 past six seasons have seen at least one new winner in the last six regular season races.
Of the three seasons on the chart with 14 winners in the 20th race – as in 2022 – two have one new winner and one two new winners.
However, the only seasons with three new winners are those with 11 or fewer winners depending on race 20. Thus, the probability of having 17 different winners is very slim.
There are only so many competing drivers.
Who is left to win?
Coming to Pocono, 13 full-time drivers who won the Cup Series He did not win in 2022. Career gains are in parentheses.
I’ve been recording the same stats since 2014, the first year of the “Win You In” playoff format. I was generous in counting full-time drivers without a win, including any driver who tried to run most of the season, even if he didn’t qualify for all the races.
In the chart below, I show drivers who have won at least once in the Cup Series, but not won the season as of race 20 in yellow. Drivers who have not won the Cup Series are represented in blue.
The number of winning drivers who have not yet won a race in 2022 is roughly average, meaning the pool of potential winners is comparable to previous years.
But with five drivers already taking their first Cup Series wins this year, 2022 offers the fewest chances for additional winners for the first time ever. I wouldn’t count on Ty Dillon or Corey LaJoie as contenders in the regular season-ending Daytona—especially if the drivers were aggressive early on and climbed the total DNF.
The non-nominated winner can push the number of regular season winners even higher, but remember that drivers outside the top 30 are not eligible for the playoffs.
Who is likely to win?
I haven’t mentioned yet a small, but by no means unimportant, group of potential winners: part-time drivers targeting races have a realistic chance of winning. By the little thing, I mean primarily AJ Almendir.
The table below shows the thirteen tracks that have hosted races 21-26 in the past eight seasons.
- The yellow box means that the track hosted a race that year.
- A red X means that the track produced a first-time winner that year.
- I have highlighted the names of the tracks hosting the final races of the regular season this year in red.
In 2020, Michigan and Dover hosted back-to-back races, which is why only four tracks were highlighted that year.
The last two columns show the number of new winners in the last six regular season races, and the number of winners with their first ever win.
In the past eight years, 13 drivers have won their first 21-26 races. Two of those gains were for Allmendinger: At Glenn Watkins in 2014 (when he ran full time) and last year, as the inaugural winner of Indianapolis Grand Prix.
An Allmendinger win will bring the total closer to the 16-winner threshold, but will not affect the playoffs. The Allmendinger cannot earn points in the Cup Series this year.
New winners for the past eight seasons have come from 10 different tracks. Five of these tracks are included in the next six races of 2022. Pocono and Watkins Glenn have produced new winners in about a third of the time. Daytona has done it once out of two races, and Michigan once out of nine races. Indianapolis road track one-on-one.
The sixth track on this year’s schedule, Richmond, has not hosted a first-time fall race winner during this time frame, despite being the last regular race of the season five times.
The pessimist in me points out that six of the thirteen new table winners were also first-time winners of the Cup Series. The ranks of drivers who have never won this year have fallen, which means that new winners must come from the pool of veteran winners.
Optimists say this year is the first time we’ve had two laps on the road and top speed in the last six races of the regular season in this elimination format. With half of the races remaining on the tracks leading to new winners, the likelihood of seeing a new winner increases.
And of course, there’s the next-generation car, which has presented technical challenges, but has also put some unexpected names at the forefront of modern fields. Both optimists and pessimists agree, however, that the numbers suggest that sixteen regular season winners are within reach.