Fallout From Seven Different NASCAR Winners

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Each year the same question gets asked: “Will this be the season that winning simply isn’t enough?”

When NASCAR instituted the current format of elevating winning drivers to the playoffs, they knew a hypothetical scenario existed where there would be more than 16 unique winners in the first 26 races. It wasn’t hard to imagine. Simple math screams as much.

NASCAR strove for parity that would allow all three manufacturers to battle equally for victories.

Moreover, they wanted every popular driver in the field to have equal access to a winning formula. Uneven resources have largely limited the winners to marquee teams plus the occasional wild card from an aero-restricted superspeedway.

Early in the season, it often seems possible that more than 16 winners will emerge in the regular season. But with each passing week of 2021, the likelihood of that actually happening for the first time grows exponentially. More than a quarter of the regular season is in the books and 44 percent of the slots have seemingly been claimed.

Moreover, the list of drivers who won last year but have not yet won in 2021 is long and impressive. Four of these drivers had more than three wins last year. Kevin Harvick with nine, Denny Hamlin (seven), Chase Elliott (five), and Brad Keselowski (four) are almost guaranteed to win in the next 19 races.

Five more drivers had one win last year, and while it’s anyone’s guess if Austin Dillon, Cole Custer, or Kurt Busch will win in the regular season, it would be a huge surprise if Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman fail to grace Victory Lane. If that happens, the list of unique winners climbs to 13.

There are still two aero-restricted superspeedway races and five road course events to be run.

While it is still too soon to predict that more than 16 unique winners will emerge in the first 26 races, the challenges faced by oddsmakers and handicappers is already apparent: Favorites simply aren’t winning.

Only one driver with less than 10/1 odds has won this year. Kyle Larson closed at +900 for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but everyone else has been above that mark. With some true dark horses tossed into the mix, the average line on winning drivers has been +3014.

That disruption is bound to change the betting strategy of many gamblers.

In order to cover a weekly bet over the course of 36 races during the season, bettors need to hit on odds that total +3600 or more. A wager last week on Joey Logano on the Bristol Dirt track netted $200 on a $10 bet. Logano would need to hit twice more while he is +800 or greater to cover the losses in the other 33 races – or hit once if he can do so at +1600 or more.

But that requires Logano to win multiple races.

Seven winners in seven races has reduced the opportunities for someone like a Harvick or Hamlin to establish a dominant stance during the regular season, but it stretches the imagination to assume that several drivers will not win three or more.

In 2013, four drivers won three or more races. Since then, there have been at least five – and as many as eight – threepeaters. Identifying who drivers will be in 2021 and riding them hard for the remainder of the year will be one of the winning formulas.

During the playoff era, 13 drivers have won three or more races in a season. Seven of those drivers are still active.

Harvick, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin, and Elliott should be the horses you ride hardest in 2021.

Harvick has been the most productive of them. He has won three or more races six times in recent seasons with last year’s nine victories counting as his best.

Keselowski has also tripled six times with six wins in 2014 as his best season.

Busch and Logano recorded three or more wins in five recent seasons. Busch’s best season was eight wins in 2018; Logano had five in 2015.

Truex tripled four times with eight wins in 2017 as his best.

Hamlin and Elliott each have three seasons with three of more wins under their belt. Both saw their highlight reel filled last year with Hamlin’s seven wins and Elliott’s five.

But it is likely that another two or three drivers will end the season with at least three wins. Based on his performance to date, Kyle Larson should readily be added. Far less certain are Blaney and Bowman, but the odds are their lines will be much more attractive in the coming weeks than those for the conventional leaders.

Winners, Last 45 Days (Outright Odds to win)
Food City Dirt Race, Joey Logano (+2000)
QuikTrip 500, Atlanta: Ryan Blaney (+1500)
Instacart 500k, Phoenix: Martin Truex Jr. (+1100)
Pennzoil 400, Las Vegas: Kyle Larson (+900)
Dixie Vodka 400, Homestead: William Byron (+3000)
O’Reilly 253, Daytona road: Christopher Bell (+6000)
Daytona 500, Daytona oval: Michael McDowell (+6600)