ThatsRacin

NASCAR's new problem? Repeat winners, and why they're bad for racing in 2018

NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch is off to a strong start with three victories in 11 races this season.
NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch is off to a strong start with three victories in 11 races this season. AP

NASCAR has a problem, folks, and we’re not talking about attendance, or TV ratings, or anything nearly that complicated.

We’re talking drivers — specifically, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick — and an issue that neither one of them deserves blame for.

Too few drivers are winning too many races.

Let me explain: So far this season, there have been 11 NASCAR Cup Series races. We’ve gone to short tracks like Martinsville and Bristol, both of the superspeedways in Daytona and Talladega, and a number of other unique tracks. And yet, two drivers have won seven of those 11 races? That doesn’t make sense.

Now, Busch and Harvick are incredible drivers, two of the best currently active but also two of the best, period. This isn’t any issue of theirs — they’re just doing their jobs as well as they can, and so far, that has translated into wins.

But for NASCAR as a whole, this is turning into an issue. Other than those two drivers (and again, give them all the credit in the world), we’ve had Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, and Joey Logano win races. Dillon in the Daytona 500 was probably the biggest surprise of that foursome, and he even made the playoffs last season.

The point is, NASCAR fans want to see competition. That’s what the sport is all about, right? Late passes for the lead and stage wins, bumpin’ and grindin’, true up-in-the-air racing. What we have now is about as far from that as you can get.

We know that almost every week, either Harvick or Busch is going to compete for the win and score a top-5 finish. Again, that’s a product of their hard work, and there’s no begrudging that. But if those two, and the usual cast of top competitors, continue winning multiple races each, especially this early in the season?

Well, then the 2018 season is at risk of becoming something every NASCAR fan is scared to death of.

Boring.

This isn’t to wish ill will on either Busch or Harvick, because the best drivers deserve to win more races. Same way in football or any other sport — the “best” at whatever wins more. Fine. But winning more than half as often?

Maybe the correct way to phrase all this is that, so far in 2018, we’ve had a glaring lack of parity. For comparison sake, the first 11 races of 2017, three drivers (Truex, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski) won two races each. In 2016, things were more like this season — Johnson, Keselowski, and Carl Edwards each won two races, while Kyle Busch won three. And back in 2015, Johnson won three of the first 11 and Harvick won two.

Parity doesn’t always abound in NASCAR, a sport where you need good luck as much as the best car to win, but this year especially has been bad. And that has reverberating consequences, too, given NASCAR’s struggles to compete with other top sports leagues.

All in all, there isn’t much NASCAR can do to stop Busch and Harvick from winning. If they really are that much better, then they just are that much better. But in a field with nearly 40 cars, on a variety of different tracks, is there anyone who really wants the same two guys winning over and over?

No. Not anyone who cares about NASCAR’s survival, at least.

This week’s NASCAR race: Kansas: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series KC Masterpiece 400.

Distance: 267 laps, or 400.5 miles.

Where: Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile, asphalt tri-oval in Kansas City, Kansas.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

TV: FS1.

Radio: MRN.

Last year’s winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Worth mentioning: Kansas earned a second race in 2011 when NASCAR underwent schedule realignment.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Kevin Harvick: A fourth win in 11 races? It’s almost time to lock him into the championship four.

Clint Bowyer: A second-place finish bumps him to fourth in the points standings — he might have a playoff run in him, after all.

NOT

Alex Bowman: A poor 23rd-place finish at Dover drops him to the fringes of the playoffs.

Bubba Wallace: A new sponsor announcement didn’t keep him from finishing 25th at Dover, and given the state of his team, more days like that may be on the way.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889; @brendanrmarks

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