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NASCAR Doesn’t Have a “Max Verstappen Problem”

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

The NASCAR season and the Formula One season are both now underway, and both races over the weekend featured dominating performances from arguably the best drivers in each respective motorsport. This set off an interesting conversation about domination in motorsports. Is a driver dominating necessarily a bad thing?

  • NASCAR and Formula One are competing with each other in many respects. Particularly, both are competing over who will win over the younger generation of motorsports fans.
  • Many attribute the domination going on in Formula One to the ratings decline in the first week of the season. However, NASCAR saw a ratings increase despite a dominating performance by Kyle Larson in Las Vegas. What is the difference?
  • Fans always pit NASCAR and Formula One against each other. Some fans watch both NASCAR and F1, but there is dissension between those who only watch one or the other as well.

Is Domination Bad for Motorsports?

Domination in sports tends to get a bad rap. However, in spurts, teams or individuals dominating is not necessarily a bad thing. How do the best drivers and race teams build an incredible legacy? By dominating.

The greatest drivers in NASCAR history had some pretty dominant stretches. Richard Petty had 200 wins and 7 Championships, including a 27-win season in 1967. Dale Earnhardt won 4 Championships in 5 seasons between 1990 and 1994. Jimmie Johnson won 5 in a row between 2006 and 2010.

Formula One is the same. Drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher have each won 7 World Championships.

These drivers build legacies, and they set the bar for drivers in the future. There is a catch, however. It’s not fun to see these drivers win everything while being miles ahead of the competition every single week. It’s even more impressive to see these drivers beat the other greats of their time.

Jimmie Johnson, for example, had intense Championship battles with drivers like Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin, who are all current and future Hall of Famers. Dale Earnhardt had to beat Hall of Famers like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Cale Yarborough. Richard Petty had some incredible battles with David Pearson.

In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton had to beat his teammate, Nico Rosberg. Once Rosberg left, Ferrari and Red Bull brought some legitimate challenges to Hamilton and Mercedes’s dominance. Schumacher had to beat World Champion Damon Hill, and Schumacher also had fierce battles with Mika Hakkinen in the late 1990s.

The point is that domination is not necessarily bad in spurts, as long as there is genuine competition happening throughout the season. Maybe one race or one season can be a runaway, but there are still intriguing storylines happening in between. That is the difference between NASCAR and Formula One right now.

What’s the Difference Between NASCAR and Formula One

Compare last weekend’s races, Formula One at Bahrain and NASCAR at Las Vegas.

In Bahrain, Max Verstappen started on the pole, led every lap, and won the race by more than 22 seconds with absolutely no challenge aside from the first corner of lap one. This came directly after a season where Verstappen ran away with the Championship with 19 victories. He also led 75.7% of the laps in the series in 2023.

Kyle Larson swept both stages and led 181 of 267 laps at Las Vegas, a dominating performance. However, he had to genuinely fight for the lead on multiple occasions thanks to varying pit strategy and Tyler Reddick trying to keep pace. Even though Larson dominated, the outcome was in doubt until the very end.

Even looking at recent NASCAR history, these types of events and races are very rare. In 2023, only once did a race winner lead the same percentage of laps Larson did on Sunday (67.8%). Martin Truex Jr. led 254 of 301 laps at New Hampshire, and William Byron led 66 of 90 laps at Watkins Glen.

Looking at season-long domination, in the modern era, no driver has ever won more than 43.3% of races in a season. Richard Petty did so in 1975, winning 13 races. Even in the Playoff era, Kyle Larson won a series-high 10 races in 2021, but that only accounted for 27.8% of the season.

NASCAR does not have the same Max Verstappen problem that Formula One does. While NASCAR does have small spurts of domination here and there, there is enough variability and parity to create intrigue throughout the season. In Formula One, everyone is crowning Max Verstappen because there is no one else who can even sniff the same air as him.

Domination has a place in motorsports in some form or fashion. However, if it goes too far, it can be detrimental to the sport.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts