Big 3 roar into MIS with lion’s share of victories

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Kyle Busch

It feels familiar.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. keep winning.

They have taken so many checkered flags heading into Michigan International Speedway for the Consumers Energy 400 (2:30 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN), victory lane feels a bit like an exclusive men’s club in 2018.

Busch, Harvick and Truex have won 16 of the 22 races.

About Independence Day, some fans could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu.

The stockcar series is buffeted by changing tastes and meddlesome events from the world around it.

Three accomplished drivers are accomplishing even more, exhibiting such dominance it sometimes feels only one of the three can possibly win.

It has all happened before.

In 1974, amid an energy crisis that had forced Americans to line up for gas and the Watergate scandal that ended President Richard Nixon’s administration, David Pearson, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough won 27 of the 30 races.

Three lions of the sport barely let anyone else lead.

From March 4 to Sept. 29, in 1974, no other driver won.

They raced amid an oil embargo by Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, as it was known then, after the United States supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

The first 15 races of the season were shortened by 10 percent. The Daytona 500 was the Daytona 450.

Kevin Harvick

Some Americans thought NASCAR and other motorsports wasted fuel.

But, the performances of Petty, Yarborough and Pearson helped smooth out the ruffles.

“The domination of the ‘Big Three’ in 1974 was unlike anything we’ve seen for a long time,” said Ken Martin, a historian and senior manager of archives for NASCAR. “I think that’s why the folks today, with the success of Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, are looking back at that season as one to compare it to.”

In 2018, as NASCAR is concerned about comparatively sparse attendance its struggling TV ratings and race teams learning to cut costs, a new triumvirate excels.

Trumpeted as a season for young drivers, who NASCAR and its broadcast partners market as the so-called young guns, it has been anything but.

Someone forgot to show that press release to Busch, 33; Truex, 38; and Harvick, 42.

Chase Elliott won his first NASCAR cup race at Watkins Glen on Sunday to become the fifth driver, other than the Big Three, to win a race in 2018.

But Busch, an accomplished driver on road tracks, had the lead until a $4 seal failed during refueling.

And Truex remained on Elliott’s bumper in the closing laps, at one point forcing the young driver wide in the first turn, before running out of fuel.

“We all talk about the Big Three and how fast they are. Well, we’re not going to catch them if we don’t try something different,” said Joey Logano, of Team Penske, Friday.

“The speed that we have, right now, is not enough to win the championship.”

Martin Truex Jr.

Busch and Harvick have six wins and Truex four.

Clint Bowyer has two, while Michigan’s Erik Jones, Austin Dillion, Elliott and Logano each have one.

Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski and Logano, who both drive for Team Penske, seemed to gain some pace before two races ago at Pocono. But, it does not appear to be enough now.

And, Chevrolet had rough start to the season, with teams and drivers mastering racing with the new Camaros. Elliott’s win is only the second for Chevy. Toyota has 11 and Ford nine.

In 1974, Petty, Pearson and Yarborough were even more dominant than the 2018 trio. Bobby Allison won two races and the rookie Earl Ross won one.

It was a time of highly-competitive racing, with “slingshot drafting” allowing cars to go radiator-to-rear-bumper, and the following car to flash by.

The 1974 races often featured at least a few dozen lead changes; some, several dozen.

“It was quite an era,” Martin said. “I was a 22-year-old fan living in central Virginia, and to go to the races we had to calculate whether we could get there on a tank of gas.

“When you had 300, 400 miles to drive and gas was sold on alternate days, depending on whether you had odd or even plates, you had to plan.

“I knew people who would even have an extra set of license plates borrowed from a friend, so that they could make the trip!”

On the track, week after week, Pearson, Petty and Yarborough, who would eventually all enter NASCAR Hall of Fame, raced hard — mostly against each other, and for the lead.

Petty won seven NASCAR Cup championships and 200 races in his career. Pearson won three championships and 105 races. Yarborough won three championships, in succession, and 83 races.

All three did some of their best driving in 1974.

And, they drove for race teams headed by members of the Hall of Fame: Pearson, for the Wood Brothers; Petty, for Petty Enterprises; and Yarborough, for “the last American hero,” Junior Johnson.

“They had the market cornered on a lot of talent,” Martin said.

After Petty won the June race at MIS, then called the Motor State 400, a race that featured 50 lead changes among eight drivers, it was back to Daytona on July 4 for the Firecracker 400.

It provided one of the most unforgettable moments in NASCAR Cup history.

Entering the final lap, Petty trailed Pearson. But Petty had Pearson in his crosshairs for an almost certain last lap, slingshot pass. Everyone watching banked on it.

But, suddenly, directly in front of Petty, Pearson abruptly drove down to the apron, on the bottom of the track. It appeared he was out of gas.

Swerving to narrowly avoid an accident, Petty flew by. Then, Pearson punched the throttle. With a massive acceleration, he returned to the racing groove and caught Petty.

Forcing the role reversal, in a perilous move rarely seen in the sport, Pearson positioned himself for the slingshot pass. He executed it, and won by a nose.

Seething, Petty caught up to Pearson in huddle of newspaper reporters in the press box.

Removing a long, narrow cigar from his clenched front teeth, according to The Charlotte Observer, Petty jabbed it toward Pearson and told the reporters, “I’m just here to tell y’all, David usually drives a safer, saner race than that.”


Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have combined for 16 of the 22 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series this season.

6: Kyle Busch

6: Kevin Harvick

4: Martin Truex Jr.

Other winners:

2: Clint Bowyer

1: Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott


When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.


Support race: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200, 1 p.m., Saturday