Kyle Busch celebrates one of his four wins at Bristol.
From the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway to the paperclip-shaped turns at Martinsville Raceway, short track racing provides its own breed of excitement in the Sprint Cup Series. Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond International Raceway are the only tracks on the schedule where bumping and banging are not only accepted, but required in order to race effectively. Aerodynamics and power under the hood are still important, but a driver’s ability to muscle a car around the tight corners of a short track is often the determining factor.
Some of the greatest finishes in the sport have occurred on short tracks. Dale Earnhardt’s battles with Terry Labonte at Bristol, Kyle Busch’s infamous bump on Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond, and Denny Hamlin’s feuds with Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville are just some of the examples. Given the unique nature of short track racing, it should come as no surprise that a select group of drivers have separated themselves from the rest.
With the Cup Series heading to Bristol next weekend, it’s time to take a look at the sport’s best short track drivers out there today.
Burton has won at all three short tracks on the schedule.
Who says patience has no place at short tracks? Burton has been able to maintain his Mr. Nice Guy persona and find success. He has three short track wins in his career, winning once at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond.
More importantly, he has been consistent. Burton’s 12.4 average finish since the beginning of the 2009 season is the sixth-best mark in the series. He has just for top-10s in his last 10 short track starts, but his 12.6 average finish remains the sixth-best mark.
Junior is a three-time winner at Richmond.
His slump the last two seasons has made him a forgotten man, but Junior is actually one of the more well-rounded short tracks experts in the series. He has four career wins, picking up three at Richmond and one at Bristol. Junior also has a 13.2 average finish and 32 top-10s in 66 career short tracks starts.
Even with his recent slide, he has maintained a top-15 average finish at all three short tracks for his career, and he has at least 10 top-10s on all three tracks as well.
Short track wins have been rare for Newman.
With just a single short track win in his career, Newman is limited as to how high he can be ranked. That being said, his outstanding consistency can’t be ignored. He has scored the fourth-most points in the series during the last 10 short track events, notching seven top-10 finishes.
For his career, he has a solid 14.4 average finish and has 30 top-10s in 54 career starts. He has been even better recently. Newman’s 9.6 average finish is the fourth best in the series since the start of the 2009 season, and his 97.4 driver rating is fifth best. Some more wins would help him stand out, but for now, he will have to settle for flying under the radar.
Kurt Busch won three straight races at Bristol at one point.
Consistency at the short tracks hasn’t exactly been his strong suit, but Busch is one of the few active drivers that can boast victories at all three short tracks. He has seven career short track wins with one coming at Martinsville, one at Richmond and five at Bristol. His 17.4 average finish isn’t spectacular, but it’s not awful either.
Busch has actually been getting better at the short tracks recently, although the wins have been tough to come by. His 12.6 average finish in the last 10 short track events is nearly five positions better than his career mark and is good enough for the sixth-best mark in the series.
Busch only has two top-five finishes during the same stretch, but his 95.3 driver rating is seventh best in the series. If he can find a balance between winning and running in the top-10 consistently, he could be even better.
Gordon is the active leader in short track wins.
If you are comparing career numbers, then Gordon is hands down the top short track driver in NASCAR. His 15 career wins are the most among active drivers. Not to mention the fact that he has multiple wins at all three short tracks, winning twice at Richmond, five times at Bristol and seven times at Martinsville. In 116 starts, Gordon has 77 top-10s and an 11.0 average finish.
While his career accomplishments speak for themselves, there is no denying the fact that he hasn’t been a dominant force in recent years. Although his 10.1 average finish at short tracks in the last 10 races is third best in the series, Gordon doesn’t have a single win during that stretch. In fact, he hasn’t won at a short track since 2005. He is still a solid top-10 performer, but he just isn’t dominant anymore.
Johnson picked up his first win at Bristol in 2010.
He has had some issues with inconsistency at Bristol and Richmond, but there is no denying Johnson’s ability to get to Victory Lane at the short tracks. He has 10 career short track wins, notching one at Bristol, three at Richmond and an incredible six wins at Martinsville. In the last 10 short track events, Johnson has seven top-10 finishes, and his 110.6 driver rating since the start of the 2009 season is third best in the series.
His career average finish at short tracks is 12.8, and he has 32 top-10s in 54 career starts. Those numbers are somewhat carried by his dominance at Martinsville where he has a 5.3 average finish and 17 top-10s in 18 starts. While his near perfection at Martinsville hides his inconsistencies at Bristol and Richmond, you can’t discount that fact that he has won at all three short tracks.
Hamlin has won five of the last 10 short track races.
In the last 10 short track races, Hamlin has led an astounding 1,116 laps. No other driver has led more than 650 laps during the same stretch. His five victories in those 10 events are also the most in the series, and his 8.8 average finish is the second-best mark.
Hamlin has six wins and 21 top-10s in 31 career short track starts, compiling an impressive 9.5 average finish. He has been even better the last two seasons, picking up five wins since the start of the 2009 season. Hamlin has a 7.3 average finish during that stretch, and his 114.4 driver rating is the top mark in the series. He is still looking for a win at Bristol, but he has been next to unstoppable at Martinsville and Richmond.
Busch is a threat to win at any short track event.
When it comes to bumping, banging and being aggressive, is there anyone better than Kyle Busch? With more than 100 more points scored in the last 10 short track events than any other driver, the answer is pretty clear. Busch has four wins, and a series-leading eight top-five finishes in the last 10 short tracks races. His 5.0 average finish during that stretch is also tops in the series.
His numbers are just as strong over the course of his career. Busch has six wins, 21 top-five finishes and 25 top-10s in 36 career short track starts. He has a 10.4 average finish in those events, and that mark improves to 6.3 since the start of the 2009 season. That mark is the best in the series during that stretch. He may not have a win at Martinsville yet, but he more than makes up for it with his overall short track numbers.