Wait a second, Alex Bowman is perhaps the hottest driver in the NASCAR Cup series.
There’s a completely intended pun there. In each of the past three weeks, Bowman has finished as runner-up — behind Chase Elliott at Talladega, Martin Truex Jr. at Dover and Brad Keselowski at Kansas.
That’s behind two former series champions and a driver many think is a future champion. It’s on three completely different track types.
In his first 126 Cup series starts (albeit the first 71 of those came for underfunded teams), Bowman never finished better than third. He only had three top-five finishes in his first 126 starts, a mark that he’s met in just the past three weeks.
Now, a completely random, unprovoked reminder that you can vote for a driver to get into the All-Star Race and Bowman happens to be one of those drivers you can vote for.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the rarity of three straight runner-up finishes and all the ways Bowman’s streak is unique.
A second glance
In Cup series history, there have only been 27 streaks of at least three straight second-place finishes. And only 18 drivers have pulled it off, thanks to drivers like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon accomplishing it multiple times.
It hasn’t been long since the last driver pulled off that streak. Kyle Larson did it in the second, third and fourth races of 2017. But before that, you have to go back to Carl Edwards in 2011 and then to Jimmie Johnson in 2006, the first of his seven championship seasons.
Bowman is only one away from the record of four consecutive runner-up finishes. That’s been done four times in Cup series history, most recently by Mark Martin in 1998, but also by Harry Gant, Waltrip and Petty.
Obviously, Bowman would like to snap that streak with a trip to Victory Lane, but the path to a Cup Series record is just one race away.
Just one spot away
Let’s take a second glance (another pun) at that above sentence. Bowman, I’m sure, would gladly give up a shot at the record by winning and locking himself into a playoff spot.
Of those previous 26 streaks of three straight runner-up finishes, none of them came by drivers who had never previously won a race. In fact, only one of them, Dick Hutcherson in 1965, came from a driver who entered that season without a career win (he won prior to the second-place streak).
Snapping such a streak with a victory isn’t unprecedented. Remember that Larson streak from 2017, the last time a driver had three straight second-place finishes? That streak was snapped with a win at California.
Five of the previous 26 times that a driver has gone at least three straight races finishing second, he snapped that streak with a victory. Petty did it in both 1964 (after four straight) and 1975. Waltrip did it in 1983 and Gordon did it in 1999, along with the aforementioned Larson streak just two seasons ago.
Someone to turn to
There’s a handful of drivers who scoff at Bowman’s wait to win a race, and some of them aren’t that far away.
Just last season, Elliott picked up his first career victory after eight career runner-up finishes. His father, Bill, also had eight seconds before a win. Former Hendrick drivers Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin had six runners-up before getting that first win.
If Bowman wins the next points race (the Coke 600 at Charlotte), it’ll be in his 130th career start. Of the 191 winners in Cup series history, 23 of them (12 percent) didn’t win until at least their 130th start. That includes a couple of the more recent first-time winners, Austin Dillon (133rd start) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (158th start).
And, Dillon’s first win also came in the Coke 600 along with Casey Mears (156th start). In total, seven drivers picked up their first career wins in the 600-miler at Charlotte, a list that includes future champions David Pearson, Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth.
Thank you for reading this column. Feel free to come back for seconds (third pun).