Ranking the 10 Most Dominant Seasons in Sprint Cup Series History

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst IMay 9, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Dominant Seasons in Sprint Cup Series History

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    What makes a season truly dominant at NASCAR's highest level?

    Is it scoring far more victories than anybody else in the series?

    Is it amassing a huge advantage in the championship standings?

    Is it accomplished by simply being consistent enough to post an average finish in the single digits?

    The answer, of course, depends on who you ask.

    Sometimes a driver can be the most dominant in the series and fail to come home with the championship. For example, the Chase for the Sprint Cup makes it difficult for a driver to be dominant through an entire season and win a title, as somebody else who peaks at the right time could steal the crown in the season's final months. With that in mind, there's only one Chase era season in here (and that was exactly what happened to the driver in question).

    Most of the seasons on this list are still years in which these drivers won the championship. But the dominance exhibited over the rest of the field manifests itself in different ways—some even different from the ones posed above.

    With that in mind, here are 10 seasons in which nobody had anything for the following drivers.

10. David Pearson, 1973

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    How does a part-time season in which Pearson only started 18 races make this list?

    Simple: He won 11 of those races and still finished seventh in points. Pearson's win percentage of 61 from the 1973 season surpasses any other in the sport's history.

    In fact, one of the most significant reasons why Pearson was frequently so good was because he rarely ran full schedules during his career. He was similarly strong in 1974 (third in points despite missing 11 events) and 1976 (series-best average start and finish ranks despite missing eight races).

9. Jeff Gordon, 2007

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    Thanks to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Gordon was robbed of the 2007 title by teammate Jimmie Johnson, but the numbers he posted that year were simply outrageous.

    Gordon only won six races to Johnson's 10, but he also posted 30 top-10s in the 36 events to Johnson's 24. With an average finish of 7.3, Gordon cracked the single digits in that category for the first time since posting a career-best 5.7 average finish in 1998. (Johnson's, by the way, was only 10.8.)

8. Dale Earnhardt, 1987

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    Of the seven championships Earnhardt won during his career, 1987 may have been the finest. He won six of the first eight races, setting a modern record by winning four in a row, on the way to a career-high 11 victories.

    When all was said and done, Earnhardt won the championship by a 489-point margin over Bill Elliott at the end of the year. It wasn't the first time they tangled that season—1987 was the year of the famous "Pass in the Grass," when Earnhardt and Elliott tangled in the sport's annual all-star race.

7. Cale Yarborough, 1978

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    During Yarborough's reign atop NASCAR—three championships, all of which came in consecutive years—he kept improving on greatness until there was nowhere to go but back down.

    1978, the third championship year, was the peak.

    Yarborough posted the second 10-win season of his career, improving on the nine wins in both 1976 and 1977. He also added eight poles, tying a then-career high with an average start of 3.6 and 24 top-10s. When all was said and done, his points lead was 474 over Bobby Allison, better than his 386-point lead on Richard Petty the year before or his 195-point advantage over Petty in 1976.

6. David Pearson, 1969

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    Sure, Bobby Isaac won 17 races to Pearson's 11 (both made 50 starts), but Pearson was consistent in his dominance. He finished 44 races in the top 10, posting an average finish of 5.3, to take the championship by 357 points over Richard Petty.

    Having won his third championship in four years, Pearson immediately retired from full-time driving. He would continue to win at least one race every year until 1980, amassing 105 victories in his career, but never again started more than 22 races in a given season.

5. Darrell Waltrip, 1981 or 1982

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    Take your pick—the two most important statistics are the same. Waltrip won both of these championships with 12 race victories in each season.

    Each year had its advantages over the other. He had 11 poles in 1981 but an average start of 3.8 in 1982; he had 25 top-10s in 1981 but a wider margin of championship victory in 1982. Either way, it became abundantly clear very quickly that driver Waltrip and owner Junior Johnson were the sport's dominant combination, and they would remain so through 1986.

4. Richard Petty, 1975

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    Petty won 13 races in 30 starts in 1975, putting him well on the way to his sixth NASCAR championship. That effort very quickly established him as the winningest driver in a single season in NASCAR's modern era, a mark that has only been touched once since.

    Many of those victories came on short tracks, including both Bristol and North Wilkesboro races, and individual events at Richmond and Martinsville. Petty also added crown jewel victories in the World 600 at Charlotte—his first victory in that race—and the Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

3. Tim Flock, 1955

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    No driver came within 12 wins or 1,500 points of the stats Flock put up in his 1955 championship season. In 39 starts, he scored 18 wins and 33 top-10s, posting an average start of 3.2 and average finish of 4.6.

    Second-place finisher Buck Baker had only three victories, putting the championship well out of reach for him. Meanwhile, third-place finisher Lee Petty was 2,402 points out of the lead despite six victories. (It should be noted that this points system was significantly different than the current one.)

2. Jeff Gordon, 1998

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    During most seasons, Mark Martin's seven wins and 26 top-10s—both career highs—would be more than enough to win a championship.

    Gordon wouldn't let it be so.

    On the way to his third championship, Gordon tied Richard Petty's 23-year-old mark for most wins in a season in NASCAR's modern era, taking 13 victories in 33 starts. He added 28 top-10s along the way to win the championship over Martin by 364 points. Not only did Gordon make Martin's season look pedestrian, but he also made the rest of the series look like amateurs; only the top five drivers were within 1,100 points of Gordon that year.

1. Richard Petty, 1967

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    The seasons may have been longer back then, but by winning 27 of 48 races that he entered, Petty had by far the most dominant full season at NASCAR's highest level.

    He won 10 races in a row between August and October, running away with his second championship in the process. This year also marked the only time that Petty won the famed Southern 500 in Darlington.

    Winning more than half of the races in a full season has never been done in the modern era, never mind winning 27. This mark may remain untouched for the rest of the sport's history.

    For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.