The character the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season has assumed isn’t the kind most fans would like to see.
And a sport that often promotes its high level of competition probably doesn’t like it, either.
Three drivers have dominated the season. They have won 14 of 18 races. They have 19 stage wins among them. They occupy the top three positions in the point standings. It’s reasonable to assume they will be strong favorites to battle for the championship – and one of them will win it.
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have become known as “The Big Three” of the season so far. Busch and Harvick have five victories each, Truex four. If you want a foursome include Clint Bowyer with two wins.
Unless you are a fan of one or more of them, this isn’t the kind of thing you perceive NASCAR to be all about. To have multiple winners is your thing. The sanctioning body also likes it.
But as it is in every sport sometimes a select few teams or athletes rise above the others. Happens all the time.
I assume you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you it’s happened in NASCAR before – more than once, in fact.
It was particularly flagrant in 1974 when three drivers combined to win 27 of that season’s 30races.
It happened during a time when NASCAR tried hard to equalize the competition and made many expensive rule changes to make that happen.
But it was to no avail.
It was the season of Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson. They were already seasoned stars and multiple championship winners, so no one was overly surprised that they were successful.
But no one figured they would be so dominant. Petty and Yarborough won 10 races each and Pearson, who did not compete on short tracks, won six.
NASCAR desperately attempted to regulate competition and derail their efforts. During the year it made a whopping five major rule changes.
In March of 1974 the sanctioning body made what it said was going to be its only rule change of the year. It mandated that teams use a new carburetor on engines no larger than 366 cu. in.
But by April NASCAR allowed teams running larger engines to utilize yet another carburetor, one that allowed the intake of more air.
However, after Chevrolets running the smaller engine filled the top six positions at Martinsville, with Yarborough the winner, competition was in trouble. NASCAR reacted with yet another change that called for more carburetor alterations.
And there were more to come.
As you might imagine teams became frustrated for several reasons – most of them financial.
“I got home from Martinsville and got another rule change in the mail,” said independent driver/owner Richard Childress. “A few hours earlier I spent $70 on a carburetor that was obsolete before I ever used it.”
“NASCAR has things so screwed up I don’t know what’s fair and what isn’t,” Petty said. “This small engine thing has cost us $50,000.”
“We get a lot of criticism,” said Bill France Jr., president of NASCAR. “But if you have a bad rule and you know it why stick with it?”
No matter what NASCAR did – this engine, that engine, this carburetor, that carburetor – it did nothing to stifle three of its best teams and drivers.
There was a reason for that. The teams, Petty Enterprises, Wood Brothers Racing and Junior Johnson and Associates, had the money and technical talent to capitalize on every new mandate.
Glen Wood, for example, had his engine builder develop and new 366 cu. in. Ford engine. As a result, Pearson never lost one fathom of his superspeedway prowess.
Among other things, the Pettys beefed up a 340 cu. in. Chrysler engine.
No one knew what Johnson was up to but that is the way he wanted it as Yarborough won repeatedly.
Petty’s words about the season and its revolving rule changes proved prophetic.
“No matter what the rules are the same teams are going to win,” he said. “The only difference is it costs everybody more money to make the changes.”
This year, to date, NASCAR hasn’t made any significant rule changes. Why bother? There is plenty of time for the competition to equalize before the season is over.
Then again, that might not happen.
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