NASCAR: Who could sweep the Crown Jewel races?

Take a look at which NASCAR Cup Series drivers could sweep the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400 in a single season, plus which drivers have come close.

There are four races that have established themselves over time as NASCAR’s crown jewel events. With a mix of history and prestige, the crown jewels are the Daytona 500, the World 600, the Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400.

The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway dates back the furthest, with the first race in 1950, followed by the “Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway, which started in 1959.

The World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, now known as the Coca-Cola 600, began the following year, while the latest addition is the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had its inaugural race held in 1994.

Before the addition of the Brickyard 400, two drivers swept the crown jewels in a single season. LeeRoy Yarbrough won at Daytona and Darlington in the #98 Ford and at Charlotte in the #98 Mercury, all driving for Junior Johnson in 1969. Less than a decade later, David Pearson swept the three races, driving the #21 Mercury for Wood Brothers Racing in 1976.

Since the addition of Indianapolis, two drivers have come close to sweeping, but none have done so. Dale Jarrett won at Daytona, Charlotte and Indianapolis in 1996, driving the #88 Ford for Robert Yates Racing. At Darlington, he led early, pacing the field for 23 of 367 laps, but he ultimately finished in 14th place while Jeff Gordon grabbed the victory.

Gordon took the baton into 1997, winning the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 aboard the #24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. With 25 laps to go in Indianapolis, he was leading when he was passed by Jarrett.

Gordon finished in fourth place after leading 25 laps, while Ricky Rudd took the lead from Jarrett while staying out during a caution and went on to take the win. Gordon later grabbed the victory in the Southern 500, making it three out of four.

The story of the next crown jewel event belonged to Dale Earnhardt, who broke his infamous run of bad luck to win his only Daytona 500 in 1998.

Gordon finished in 16th place after leading 56 laps. While it was Earnhardt had the chance to sweep, it was Gordon who went on to win the other three crown jewel races, while Earnhardt recorded two top five finishes, with a fifth place finish at Indianapolis and a fourth place finish at Darlington.

Beyond those close calls, it is not uncommon to have a driver win two crown jewel races in a season. But can anyone sweep each of those four races in a given year?

Denny Hamlin is the only driver with a chance in 2020, assuming NASCAR is able to run all four crown jewel races, with his victory in the season-opening Daytona 500.

While Hamlin has yet to win at Charlotte, he ranks second in average finish there among active drivers at 12.26. He has nine top five finishes and 17 top 10 finishes in 27 starts at the track.

At Indianapolis, where he also has no wins, he ranks third among active drivers with five top five finishes and eight top 10 finishes in 14 starts. His average finish at the track is 12.36.

And at Darlington, Hamlin is tied for first among active drivers with three wins. He has nine top five finishes and 13 top 10 finishes in 16 starts with an average finish of 7.19, second best among active drivers.

Hamlin has decent stats at these tracks, but without wins at Charlotte and Indianapolis, his chances to sweep the crown jewels are probably not the best. Still, he has five crown jewel wins between Daytona and Darlington, so you never know.

One driver who has run well at all four tracks is Jimmie Johnson. Sure, his win totals are helped by his two decades of Cup Series experience and his place as one of the sport’s greatest drivers of all-time, but he is not the only veteran driver and championship winner, so the stats still say a lot.

Johnson was and still is planning to retire after this year, but he has remained open to the possibility of returning, depending on how the 2020 schedule shapes up amid the pandemic. So let’s say he has a chance to return and sweep the races in 2021.

His success at these four tracks is clearly visible through his results and ranks among active drivers.

  • Daytona: three wins (T-1st), 12 top five finishes (2nd), 16 top 10 finishes (2nd), 18.35 average finish (11th)
  • Charlotte: eight wins (1st), 16 top five finishes (1st), 22 top 10 finishes (1st), 12.20 average finish (1st)
  • Indianapolis: four wins (1st), six top five finishes (2nd), seven top 10 finishes (T-4th), 16.50 average finish (12th)
  • Darlington: three wins (T-1st), nine top five finishes (T-2nd), 13 top 10 finishes (T-2nd), 13.04 average finish (8th)

Johnson’s recent average finishes and his last few seasons as a whole have not been his best, as he is currently riding a career-long win drought of 101 races dating back to June of 2017. But he does know how to win at these tracks.

Overall, Johnson has 12 wins in the crown jewel races, including winning two in a season on three occasions. Could an unexpected return be followed by an unexpected sweep to cap off his illustrious career?

When looking at other active drivers who could sweep the races, series veterans Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch come to mind.

Harvick is consistently one of the better drivers at these four tracks, though his stats at Indianapolis stand out.

  • Daytona: two wins (3rd), 10 top five finishes (3rd), 15 top 10 finishes (3rd), 17.50 average finish (6th)
  • Charlotte: three wins (T-2nd), eight top five finishes (4th), 17 top 10 finishes (T-3rd), 15.39 average finish (8th)
  • Indianapolis: two wins (T-2nd), seven top five finishes (1st), 13 top 10 finishes (1st), 8.95 average finish (1st)
  • Darlington: two wins (3rd), 10 top five finishes (1st), 14 top 10 finishes (1st), 13.36 average finish (10th)

Similar to Johnson’s, Harvick’s average finishes may not be the best, but he has found a way to win over the course of his two decades of Cup Series experience. Overall, Harvick has six wins in crown jewel events.

With a bit less experience than Johnson and Harvick, Busch also has the stats to prove that he could sweep the crown jewel races.

  • Daytona: one win (T-4th), eight top five finishes (5th), nine top 10 finishes (T-7th), 18.97 average finish (14th)
  • Charlotte: one win (T-4th), 13 top five finishes (2nd), 18 top 10 finishes (2nd), 14.57 average finish (6th)
  • Indianapolis: two wins (T-2nd), five top five finishes (T-3rd), 11 top 10 finishes (2nd), 12.47 average finish (6th)
  • Darlington: one win (T-4th), five top five finishes (T-5th), 11 top 10 finishes (5th), 11.41 average finish (6th)

Busch has four crown jewel wins, three of which came between 2015 and 2018. While he isn’t one of the winningest drivers in the big events, he is one of the best active drivers at these four tracks. He has also been able to win just about everywhere and in every series. A versatile racer, it would be no surprise to see him sweep the crown jewels before hanging up his helmet.

If you’re looking for a pair of longshots to sweep the crown jewels, you can find them at Team Penske.

Brad Keselowski has two crown jewel wins in his decade-plus of Cup experience, both of them coming in a single month. He won the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 on back-to-back weekends in 2018.

Keselowski has also won at Daytona and Charlotte in his career, just not in their prestigious events. His best average finish among these four tracks is 10.38 at Darlington, which is fourth best among active drivers, while he also averages top 15 finishes at both Charlotte and Indianapolis.

Joey Logano has only one crown jewel win, with that coming in the Daytona 500 in 2015, although he has also won at Charlotte in the fall race. He has a 17.78 average finish at Daytona, which is impressive considering the race-ending wrecks which are common there. It ranks seventh among active drivers.

Elsewhere, Logano has a 12.50 average finish at Charlotte, which is tied for third best among active drivers, and a 10.91 average finish at Indianapolis, which is second best. His 15.77 average finish at Darlington ranks 11th best among active drivers.

It has been over two decades since a driver was one win away from sweeping the crown jewel races in a single season. Can the sweep ever be done? If history is an indicator, probably not. Is it possible? Sure. There are still a handful of drivers to keep your eye on at all four of these tracks.

Next: Top 10 NASCAR drivers of all-time

Sweep or no sweep, the history and prestige of these famous NASCAR Cup Series events is one thing that will continue. These are four races and 2,000 miles worth watching each year.

Load Comments