The 12 Most Dominant Seasons in NASCAR Cup History

It's an extremely subjective topic but these 10 eras stand out above the rest.

Kyle Larson sent out the Gen-6 era of the NASCAR Cup Series with 10 wins and 26 top-10s in 2021.

It’s the sort of thing that probably can’t happen anymore. After all, NASCAR now uses a spec car that is identical from team to team and allow very little ingenuity for a team to hit on something that others do not immediately have.

So that got us thinking: What are the 10 most dominant seasons in NASCAR history? How do you even begin to quantify that? Is it simply a matter of scoring more wins than everyone else? Perhaps it’s the sheer consistency of an average finish in the single digits.

It’s even more challenging to quantify over the past 20 seasons because the playoffs have changed the way drivers race and how seasons are remembered. For posterity, most of the seasons on this list are years in which drivers won the championship, but that isn’t always the determining factor.

Here are the 10 most elite seasons in NASCAR Cup Series history.

12. David Pearson, 1973

David Pearson rarely raced for the NASCAR Cup Series championship. Whenever he chose to, he typically won it. He won the title three times out of the four times he elected anything close to a full season in the Pre-Modern Era.

When not racing for a championship, the Silver Fox typically was the driver the title contenders needed to beat en route to the Winston Cup.

In 1973, Pearson entered 18 of 28 Winston Cup events and won 11 of them. He earned the pole in 14 appearances. His overall triple slash reads: 11 wins, 14 top-10s and 14 top-5s with a 7.8 average finish.

Pearson and the Wood Brothers Racing Team often selected their best tracks, chasing money over championships, a true outlaw before the term entered the mainstream. He posted similar stats in 1974, finishing third in points despite missing 11 races, and 1976 when he led the league in average finish with caveat that he missed eight races.

11. Jeff Gordon, 2007

If not for how the season ended, you could have made the case that Jeff Gordon’s 2007 season was the most impressive in Modern Era history. He won seven times, but the sheer consistency of his campaign is what stood out the most. In 36 starts, Gordon accumulated 30 top-10s and 21 top-5s with a 7.3 average finish — against the toughest competition and greatest parity of his career.

So, what happened? Jimmie Johnson found another figurative gear in the Chase for the Championship and ultimately relegated his teammate to the status of most impressive runner-up of all-time. Johnson won four straight races during the playoffs and 10 overall that season.

If not for the playoffs resetting the points, Gordon would have won this championship a race before the season ended.

10. Jimmie Johnson, 2007

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If you’re going to rank what Jeff Gordon did in 2007, you also have to rank the season that dramatically denied him a fifth championship.

Overall, the stat line reads 10 wins, 20 top-5s and 24 top-10s. The average finish of 10.8 wasn’t quite as impressive as what Gordon put together but is totally spectacular in a vacuum.

But really, what this season will be remembered for, like much of what Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the Hendrick Motorsports 48 did is what was accomplished over the final 10 races in the Chase for the Championship when it mattered the most.

Johnson won four races out of the final five in the playoffs, including head-to-head against Gordon at Martinsville in Atlanta to begin establishing that this was his era, in winning his second consecutive championship of what would be five in a row of his eventual seven overall.’

9. Bill Elliott, 1985

There’s two ways to look at what Bill Elliott, crew chief and engine builder Ernie Elliott and Melling Racing accomplished in 1985. On one hand, they won 11 races and the total statline was absurd — 11 wins, 18 top-10s in 28 races and 16 top-5s.

They won the Daytona 500, Talladega 500 and Southern 500 to claim the Winston Million for the first time — a contest to win three of the four majors. In doing so, Elliott became known as Million Dollar Bill and Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.

He had a 285 point lead over Darrell Waltrip after that Million Dollar win at Darlington so what happened? He had two subpar finishes. 12th and 20th the next two races where Waltrip finished first and second. Waltrip was a master of mind games but the bolt through the 9’s radiator at Riverside certainly did help matters either.

8. Dale Earnhardt, 1987

Of his seven Cup Series championships, 1987 might be the most impressive that Dale Earnhardt ever accumulated. He won six of the first eight races, setting a modern record of four in a row, en route to 11 overall.

He won the championship by two-plus overall races over Bill Elliott, wrapping up the championship well before the autumn months. This was also the season Earnhardt completed the ‘Pass in the Grass’ in The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway — now the All-Star Race.

It was also Earnhardt’s final season in the yellow and blue Wrangler colors, earning the GM Goodwrench sponsorship and ‘The Intimidator’ moniker that went along with it.

7. Cale Yarborough, 1978

Before Jimmie Johnson won five championships in a row in the 2000s, Cale Yarborough was the standard bearer in continued excellence. And from 1976-78, Yarborough topped himself every season until no one was close on a weekly basis. He posted two runner-up finishes in 1973-74 before that.

That 1978 championship was his signature highlight.

This was his second 10-win season, improving on nine wins each of the previous two seasons. He earned eight poles, tying a then career high with an average start of 3.6 with 24 top-10s. His final points lead 474 over Bobby Allison, which was better than his 386 lead over Richard Petty in 1977 and 195 over Petty in 1976.

He posted another championship runner-up in 1980 to complete a decade of dominance that featured three championships, three runner-ups and one fourth in points.

6. David Pearson, 1969

David Pearson’s third and final championship season was his most impressive.

He won 11 races in 51 starts. Granted, Bobby Isaac matched that win total that year, but consistency is where the Silver Fox edged ahead. Isaac finished just sixth in that year’s championship.

He finished an eye-popping 42 of 51 races inside the top-5 with an average finish of 5.3 and won the championship by 357 points over Richard Petty.

This was the final time Pearson would compete for a championship, becoming a perennial part-time threat over the next decade.

5. Darrell Waltrip, 1982

For everyone racing against Darrell Waltrip and Junior Johnson during this two-year stretch, it felt like a never-ending continuous cycle in which no one had anything for the iconic No. 11.

Both seasons featured 12 wins each. Waltrip had 21 top-5s in 31 races in 1981 and 17 top-5s in 31 starts in 1982.

They won 19 more times through 1986. It was one of the most successful driver-owner combinations in NASCAR history.

4. Richard Petty, 1975

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You could make the case this is The King’s finest performance because it came against his stiffest competition. NASCAR began to tighten regulations in the 70s and the Petty Enterprises No. 43 had to contend with an inventive Junior Johnson with Cale Yarborough behind the wheel

Petty won 13 races in 30 starts, the best winning percentage of the Modern Era. He was a short track ace that season, sweeping North Wilkesboro and Bristol, while also winning at Martinsville and the Richmond Fairgrounds.
Crown jewel victories came in the World 600 at Charlotte and the Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

3. Tim Flock, 1955

This wasn’t a thing back then, but Tim Flock put up video game numbers in 1955, winning 18 times in 39 starts with Carl Kiekhaefer. You have to look at the competition he faced to get an idea of what the bar was, but the second-best effort that year was Buck Baker with three wins and a 8.1 average finish and Lee Petty with six wins and a 8.3 average finish.

Flock had 33 top-10s with an average finish of 4.6. He literally posted a top-five in all but seven starts that year.

There are legends about the efforts Ford and GM went through in the efforts of derailing the No. 300 Chrysler – especially leading up to that year’s Southern 500.

2. Jeff Gordon, 1998

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Similar to Darrell Waltrip’s 1981-82 stretch, you have to view Jeff Gordon in the late 90s as a cumulative file. The Ray Evernham led No. 24 was untouchable.

In addition to its Hall of Fame driver, the Rainbow Warriors also included future winning crew chiefs Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte; and future OEM competition executive Andy Graves.

After winning 10 times in 1996 and 1997, Gordon posted 13 wins in 33 starts with 28 top-10s and a 5.7 average finish.

More impressive than the video game numbers from yesteryear is that the 24 team did this with a highly regulated car and against an incredibly talented pool of drivers that included the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Terry and Bobby Labonte.

The runner up that season was Mark Martin, who would have won the championship any other season with seven wins and 26 top-10s in 33 starts.

Gordon posted a season on par with the 60s and 70s but did so in the parity-driven 1990s, making it the most impressive season in NASCAR history.

1. Richard Petty, 1967

It's an extremely subjective topic but these 10 eras stand out above the rest.
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They say records are meant to be broken, but Richard Petty in 1967 was in Babe Ruth territory in the still young sport of stock car racing.

Richard Petty won 27 of 48 races he entered, including 10 races in a row between August and October, earning his second championship as a result.

The 10 victories, scored from the 37th race of the year to the 46th, were single-sided beatdowns. Petty won four of these races by at least three laps. More impressive is that they were done with the same car.

“The remarkable thing was we had the same car all along,” crew chief Dale Inman said in 2017. “To keep the car under him for 10 races in a row and win them, I thought that was a feat.”

That’s a record that will likely never be broken.

“I enjoyed the 10 in a row,” Inman said. “I don’t think that will ever be beat. I don’t think the 200 wins will, either.”

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