We’ve taken the green flag on the 2018 season, but with 36 races, it’s more of a marathon than 600 miles at Charlotte.
There’ll be plenty of chances for drivers to make history throughout the season, but what are the key statistical quirks and milestones worth watching for this season? Here’s a list to get you started?
Can Truex and Busch keep putting up big numbers?
Last year was all about Martin Truex Jr. He won eight races and led more than 2,000 laps, the first driver to do that in a season since Jeff Gordon’s prime (1996). The last driver to hit both those marks and win a championship in a season before Truex was Dale Earnhardt in 1990.
Lost in Truex’s dominance was that Kyle Busch also topped 2,000 laps led last season. That made them the first pair to each hit that milestone in a season since 1989, when Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace both hit 2,000.
Now, they’ll try to join a select group if they can do it again. Over the past 30 seasons, the only drivers to hit the 2,000-laps-led mark in consecutive seasons are Kevin Harvick (2014-15), Jeff Gordon (1995-96), Rusty Wallace (1993-94) and Dale Earnhardt (1989-90).
Will dominant drivers hinder competition?
It’s asking a lot for drivers like Truex and Busch to keep putting up crazy laps-led numbers like last year. But even with the introduction of stage racing, having two dominant drivers hurt the competition level in the Cup series.
It’s hard to give an exact measure of how competitive a race is, but two excellent measures are lead changes and number of leaders in a race.
Last year the Cup series averaged 16.5 lead changes and 8.0 leaders per race, both 25-year lows for the series. It could be a low point, but it also continued a three-year slide in both categories.
However, the last time the numbers were any lower than that, 1992, we had one of the most memorable seasons in series history, where Alan Kulwicki narrowly beat Bill Elliott in a championship race that came down to the closing laps.
Chasing that first victory
Chase Elliott might now have two Duel at Daytona wins, but he’s still chasing that elusive first win in a full field race.
Elliott has seven runner-up finishes in his Cup career. Only five drivers have had at least that many before picking up their first Cup win; one of those names rings a fire station siren though.
Chase’s father Bill Elliott had eight second-place finishes before picking up his first Cup Series victory in his 116th career start. Chase has only made 77 Cup Series starts.