Dominant NASCAR Cup Teams: Part 1 – Legendary Feats for the Big Five…

Tuesday 23 November 2021 by Marc Cantin

NASCAR likes to claim that Cup Series teams are so balanced that at least ten drivers are playing for victory in each race. This statement is sustainable if you take into account that these main teams enter two or three drivers who are aiming for titles and victories like Larson and Elliott at Hendrick, three drivers at Penske, three at Gibbs and one at Stewart-Haas Racing. In total, these big-team drivers won 34, 29 and 32 Cup races respectively in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

It is also true that teams with several cars benefit from a technical synergy, both in the workshop and on the track, for the development of the cars as well as from a strategic point of view over the course of the race. This multiplicity does not explain everything, however, as for example the multiple individual titles of Richard Petty (7), Dale Earnhardt (7), Jimmie Johnson (7) and Jeff Gordon (4). Conversely, we understand less well the few titles won by drivers of equal value, such as the two small titles of Kyle Busch or Tony Stewart, or the unique championships of Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch or even Kevin Harvick.

The victorious eras of the Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon and Johnson (both wrestling above in 2013) are due in large part to effective communication and perfect understanding between key personnel in each dominant car. This efficiency begins at the level of the driver and the team leader and extends to all those who touch the car directly or indirectly.

Internal communications were already good in the era of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. However, the 2001 arrival of Matt Borland as crew chief for Ryan Newman at Penske precipitated a quiet revolution at NASCAR, where the vast majority of valiant but empirical crew chiefs and technicians were gradually replaced by familiar engineers. with technological tools and methods of analyzing car behavior and racing problems.

All great teams know what to do and do it to the best of their knowledge. And here is the difference: the best do everything better and better. Tools, analyzes, staff training, communications, verification and quality of work, zero tolerance for errors, fully understanding the faults or symptoms before embarking on proven solutions (no improvisation!), And never leave something behind on the table form the everyday.

Winning a title is theoretically simple: do nothing to become the best on the track, during the race and in the workshop, and… find the budget to do so!

For the record, here are the profiles of the notorious successes of the 5 greatest teams and drivers in the NASCAR Cup:

Petty Enterprises / Richard Petty / Dodge

This family team founded by Lee Petty, Richard’s father and a fierce driver on track and in the office, formed a nucleus by adding Maurice Petty, Richard’s brother and emeritus engine manufacturer who dominated the sport with his preparations for the « real » Chrysler Hemi engine, and Dale Inman, a cousin of Richard and the crew chief, with more than 200 victories under his belt, the record. This places this structure far ahead of Leonard Wood with 83 wins and Chad Knaus with 82. With seven titles, the Petty family dominated from 1964 to 1979 before age and technology reduced the team’s competitiveness.

Richard Childress Racing / Dale Earnhardt Sire / Chevrolet

The keys to this team’s success remain simple: competent teammates in the shop and on the track who rarely made mistakes, the tremendous support from Chevrolet for their favorite driver, and a fierce driver on the track who also discovered the effects of aerodynamics. People praised his ability to « see » the aerodynamic flows and to take advantage of them to destabilize and overtake the opponent. The great pilot also perfected the technique of « bump and run », while giving a small stroller to the pilot in front of him to destabilize him and overtake him without having sent him into the wall. After a first « bump and run », Dale pushed the pilot in question towards the wall if the latter did not let him pass. Today, NASCAR tolerates the maneuver on the last laps of the track if the hitting driver is significantly faster than the target. In love with more complex solutions and with more fragile cars, F1 achieves the same effect using the Drag Reduction System (DRS) which feathered the rear wing of the pursuer to give it more power and help it to overtaking the pursued … Fierce on the track, Dale Sr. was low-key, warm, funny and generous in private, always keeping his charitable contributions under cover. Finally, he quietly took young Jeff Gordon under his wing, enough for Gordon to become repeat Cup Series champion two seasons after the great pilot’s demise.

Hendrick Motorsports / Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson / Chevrolet

Rick Hendrick has an unusual flair for detecting potential in a young pilot and surrounding him with competent technical staff. Marrying Jeff Gordon, a young Sprint Car driver on dirt, with an engineer and modified cobblestone driver (Ray Evernham) produced three of Gordon’s four titles. Ray Evernham’s departure to Chrysler in 2001 to manage the brand’s return to NASCAR certainly limited Gordon’s success thereafter, unable to find a team leader with the imagination, leadership and technical knowledge to ‘Evernham. For his part, Gordon still possesses these same qualities which he applied to his retirement as a television analyst and now as a key administrator of Rick Hendrick’s empire … For his part, after an apprenticeship in sliding in the desert and on the small Californian ovals, Jimmie Johnson demonstrates a talent which pushes Rick Hendrick to create in partnership a team for the young pilot and a promising team leader, Chad Knaus. The mayonnaise sets in and the duo clinch five titles together before the magic wears off and Johnson moves on to indyCar in 2021. At their best, Johnson’s driving, Knaus’ decisions and the work of the teammates both in the race and at their best. the workshop dominated the rest of the peloton season after season, from 2006 to 2010.

Joe Gibbs Racing / Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr / Chevrolet then Toyota

Joe Gibbs’ team, closely associated with Toyota for several seasons, has had several successes with two types of drivers. Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch, super talents not easy to manage with their lack of maturity at the start of their careers. Tony Stewart, for example, hits everything that moves on the track in his debut, and fires his team manager Darien Grubb (23 wins in total) the day after his first title, in 2011. The other teenager, Kyle Busch, stacks up the victories (59 in the Cup at the end of the season). On the other hand, he complains in public about his dissatisfaction with the car and the team manager’s decisions, and has to work with a new team manager almost every season, which hurts his performance and limits him to just two titles. in the Cup despite the greatest talent on the track from 2003 to 2020.

Team Penske / Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano / Dodge then Ford

The reputation of Roger Penske and his various racing activities is well established, with 597 victories, 657 poles and 41 titles accumulated in all types of races in which his teams have participated and won … often since 1965. Today ‘ hui, Team Penske is part of the elite NASCAR Cup Series where it represents the interests of Ford, with whom the team won the Series Cup title with Brad Keselowski in 2012 and Joey Logano in 2018. The team does. however never dominated in NASCAR as they could do in IndyCar (nee USAC) of the time with Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr, Paul Tracy, in Can-Am series with Porsche 917 and 930 of Mark Donohue and George Follmer , in NASCAR with the same Mark Donohue and Bobby Allison, and in TransAm on Camaro and Javelin with Donohue and a bunch of drivers including the little-known Craig Fisher from Toronto… The team certainly had 3 drivers in the last 8 contenders for the title this year but it does not dominate like in the days of Mark Do nohue, engineer and driver who helped the team rack up a dazzling record of victories from 1966 to 1975, the year of his death following a crash in Formula 1. In NASCAR, Penske now places his hopes on Ryan Blaney , but key positions on the team still lack a magic touch to find a niche at the top, like a Kyle Larson or Chad Knaus, and further support from Ford.

*** Coming up: the second part that explains why Hendrick Motorsports dominates the series today!

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