NASCAR fans should have seen this coming

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) /

The parity seen so far in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season didn’t just start this season, as only one driver has won more than one of the last 13 races going back to September.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season got off to quite an unexpected start, and we have seen several things in the first four races that we haven’t seen in decades.

Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell won the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, making him the first driver to become a first-timer winner in a season opener since Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500.

McDowell’s first win came in his 358th career start, a mark that ranks second all-time among first-time winners. Michael Waltrip won the Daytona 500 in his 463rd career start to become a first-time winner back in 2001.

More from NASCAR Cup Series

Then Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell secured his first win in his 38th career start in the race at the Daytona International Speedway road course, making the 2021 season the first to start off with two consecutive first-time winners since the 1950 season, which was only the second season of what is now known as the Cup Series (NASCAR Grand National).

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron then won the season’s third race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he entered the season with just one win in 108 career starts. So the season’s first three winners entered the year with a combined one victory. The only time that number has ever been lower (zero) was entering the inaugural season of NASCAR Strictly Stock in 1949.

And most recently, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson got his first win since he was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and missed the final 32 races of the 2020 season.

More. Kyle Larson breaks a record. light

His win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was his first since October 2019 and his just his second since the end of the 2017 regular season, and he became the fastest driver to secure his first win for Rick Hendrick’s team in their 38-year history. A total of 19 other drivers had ever won for the team.

But while this parity and these four different winners may have been somewhat unexpected, this trend really goes back well into last year.

Seven different drivers won the 2020 season’s final nine races, and none of those drivers have won so far this season, meaning that 11 different drivers have won in the last 13 races.

Only one driver has won more than one race, with that being 2020 champion Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, who won three of the final five races, including the last two, of last season to secure the title. He won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.

Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski won at Richmond Raceway, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick won at Bristol Motor Speedway, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin won at Talladega Superspeedway, Team Penske’s Joey Logano won at Kansas Speedway and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch won at Texas Motor Speedway.

If these seven drivers happen to win within the next nine races, all of a sudden we will only need five new winners in the final 13 races of the regular season to reach 16 different winners before the playoffs.

Under the current playoff format, there have never been more than 13 different winners during a 26-race regular season.

The start of the 2021 season is simply a continuation of this trend, and a key thing to remember here is the fact that it’s not like the new season’s four winners are truly “upset” winners, either.

Yes, Front Row Motorsports secured the season-opening victory, their first win in almost eight years, but McDowell led only the race’s final lap. And the Daytona 500, or really any superseedway race in general, is known for producing upset winners. So that wasn’t as shocking as it may have seemed at first.

Other than that, however?

The other three winners are all from Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports, which is right along the lines of what you’d expect.

While they may not have been the exact winners everybody expected, given the fact that they accounted for just one of those two teams’ 16 combined victories last season, there is still a reason why those drivers have rides with what are arguably the sport’s top two teams.

So while the exact combination of Bell, Byron and Larson may not have been anticipated, it shouldn’t have come as a complete shock, nor should it come as a complete shock if the perennial contenders as well as additional surprising drivers start to get their names into the win category sometime soon.

dark. Next. Top 25 NASCAR drivers of all-time

The fifth race on the 2021 schedule is the Instacart 500, which is set to be broadcast live on Fox  from Phoenix Raceway beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 14. Logano and Elliott won the two races there last season, with Elliott winning the season finale to secure his first title.