Super seasons part of NASCAR lore
The New England Patriots will pursue perfection this weekend in the Super Bowl, attempting to become the first NFL team in history to finish 19-0. And while it's hard to imagine anyone in NASCAR winning 19 races in a row -- let alone all 36 -- that type of overwhelming, season-long dominance isn't just limited to pro football.
So during a week when NASCAR news often takes a back seat to the NFL's showcase event, let's take a look at five historically dominating performances that would give New England's record-breaking campaign a run for its money:
1. Richard Petty's 27-win season, 1967
While setting the all-time record for wins in a season, NASCAR's King earned his nickname during arguably the most dominating single year of his Cup career. Collecting 40 Top 10 finishes over 48 races, Petty won an astounding 56 percent of the time, sweeping races at modern-day NASCAR tracks like Darlington and Richmond.
But far more impressive was Petty's mark for consecutive victories: If you thought Jimmie Johnson winning four races in a row was spectacular, how about Petty winning 10 straight during a trip across the short tracks of the Southeast?
Starting with a dominating victory in Winston-Salem, N.C., which saw Petty lead all 250 laps at Bowman-Gray stadium, NASCAR's all-time victory leader sped through a streak that lasted from mid-August through early October. Along the way, Petty led 1,781 of 2,931 laps -- an impressive 61 percent clip -- while staving off the mechanical failure bug which doomed more than half of the starting fields throughout NASCAR's early days.
When all was said and done, Petty won the title by a mind-boggling 6,028 points over James Hylton. And though NASCAR operated under a different points system at the time, the record stands as the largest winning margin in the championship's 59-year history.
2. David Pearson's 11 wins in 18 starts, 1973
As NASCAR's Silver Fox -- ranking second on the all-time win list with 105 trophies -- slid into his second season with the famed Wood Brothers No. 21, his legacy was already intact. With two Cup titles already to his credit, Pearson partnered with the Woods and cut back his schedule, selectively choosing the races they wanted to run (not unlike Mark Martin's 2007 Cup campaign).
Well, Pearson and the Woods sure knew how to pick 'em. After two mechanical failures to start off the season at Riverside and Daytona, Pearson responded to win 11 times in his final 16 starts of the season. Whether it was the challenging 2.66-mile superspeedway of Talladega or the .625-mile short track of Martinsville, the team had 'em covered.
So dominant was the No. 21 car that Pearson finished second in laps led (2,658), despite running 10 fewer races than everyone else. If you take away the four DNFs Pearson had over the course of the year, his average finish in the races he completed was an astounding 1.3 -- that's far better than even Jimmie Johnson's 5.0 average finish during the 2007 Chase.
3. Jeff Gordon's 13-win season, 1998
After Gordon squeaked by at the end of 1997 -- winning his second title by just 14 points over Dale Jarrett -- many thought the 1998 season would present a prime opportunity to unseat NASCAR's newest young talent. That hope gained steam after Gordon started the year with a 16th-place finish in the Daytona 500. But that's when the No. 24 team, led by Ray Evernham, turned on the jets and left the rest of their competition eating dust.
It took awhile for Gordon to regain the point lead, finally taking control for good after winning at the road course in Sonoma, Calif., in June. From there, however, that was all she wrote: Gordon's second half became one of the most dominant on record.
Over the final 17 races of the season, Gordon won nine times, collecting 16 Top 5 finishes and never placing lower than seventh. By the end of the year, his point lead grew to 364 over Martin and 709 over third-place Jarrett, giving him his third title and putting him in a league of his own.
The experience proved most disappointing for Martin, whose seven victories produced enough points to win the title outright in almost any other year. Unfortunately, for Martin, Gordon's dominance came at exactly the wrong time.
4. Carl Kiekhaefer's two car owner championships, 1955 and 1956
Long before racing fans would complain about the advantages enjoyed by Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush, there was another maverick owner who took the early days of NASCAR by storm. Kiekhaefer arrived on the scene with a fleet of Chrysler 300s that were immaculately constructed. The 355-horsepower hemi engines trounced any and all competition, and original drivers Tim and Fonty Flock won 20 races, 22 poles in 1955, collecting 42 Top 10 finishes between them. Eighteen of those wins swung Tim's way, and the NASCAR superstar won his second Cup (then Grand National) championship in four years driving the infamous No. 300 Mercury Outboards Chrysler.
By the time 1956 came around, Kiekhaefer's engines -- along with his high salaries and seemingly unlimited funding -- had attracted all the top drivers on the circuit. Buck Baker, Herb Thomas, the Flocks, and Speedy Thompson were just some of the stars who took turns behind the wheel of a Kiekhaefer-owned vehicle, as the owner set the early standard for multi-car teams that's been repeated in the 1990s up through today.
With such formidable drivers in their arsenal, you'd expect the organization to dominate the series and they did: Kiekhaefer cars went on to win 16 straight races employing four drivers in 1956 -- setting a record for consecutive victories by one team that stands to this day. But after the team won 30 of 56 events that year, including a second straight championship (this time with Baker), fans turned against the juggernaut operation and Kiekhaefer left the series as quickly as he came.
5. Cale Yarborough's wire-to-wire point standings lead, 1977
Leading the point standings wire-to-wire is one of the most difficult things to do under the modern points system. Even some of the sport's most dominant champions have suffered a mechanical problem or two in the first few races of the year, giving someone else a brief stay at the top while they got their act together.
But Yarborough and his No. 11 Junior Johnson-owned Chevy allowed his competitors no such grace period. En route to the second of his three titles, Yarborough started the 1977 season finishing second and leading the most laps at Riverside, enough to force a tie with Pearson for the point lead following that event.
His early success continued from there: Yarborough won the Daytona 500 and started the year with six Top 10 finishes. By the time he won his third race of the year, at North Wilkesboro, he had opened a 120-point lead on his competition after just six starts.
The rest of the year wasn't quite as dominating -- at one point, Petty closed to within 17 points -- but Yarborough had a late-season charge that allowed him to pull away once more. At times, it wasn't pretty, but Yarborough's 30-race stint remains the only season in the modern era in which a driver has held the points lead from start to finish.
On Super Sunday, we'll see if the Patriots can pull off a similar kind of consistent perfection -- just one week before NASCAR once again takes center stage.