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Why Does Bill Elliott Only Have ONE Cup Series Championship?

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What’s Happening?

Bill Elliott is one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time with 44 wins and the 1988 Cup Series Championship. However, Elliott’s career has also been marked by near-misses, particularly with the Championship. With 3 runner-up finishes, what kept Elliott from winning more than just 1 Cup Series title?

  • In this article, we look at all 3 of Elliott’s 2nd-place Championship finishes. What kept him from winning each of these titles?
  • Some Championships were down to faltering at the wrong time, but, others were due to otherworldly performances by other drivers. Regardless, these seasons all ended with Elliott getting the shorter end of the stick.
  • Fans love Bill Elliott, and that is proven by being a 16-time Winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award. He was so popular that, he voluntarily removed himself from the ballot following 2002 so that other drivers could win.

1985: Inconsistency Late in the Season

Bill Elliott was well-established as a true contender when 1985 rolled around, but, he took his talents to new heights that season. He won 10 of the first 20 races of the season, building a 206-point lead over Darrell Waltrip with only 8 races to go. For some perspective, 185 points was the maximum a driver could earn in a race back then.

Unfortunately, the final few races of the schedule featured mostly short tracks, which Waltrip thrived at as Elliott struggled in 1985. None of Elliott’s wins came at tracks less than 1.0 miles in length. Waltrip finished the season with 2 wins, 6 Top-5s, and 7 Top-10s in the final 8 races. Elliott, on the other hand, had only 1 win and 5 finishes outside of the top-10, including 3 finishes of 30th or worse.

Despite 11 wins to Darrell Waltrip’s 3, Elliott lost the Championship largely thanks to inconsistency and a mechanical failure at Riverside, the season finale. Elliott’s car was built for speed, which worked well on superspeedways, but, his lows on short tracks were particularly low. In 8 short track races throughout 1985, Elliott had an average finish of 13.1, compared to a 6.3 average finish on all other track types.

Still, this left a bad taste in some people’s mouths. It reopened the debate about consistency versus wins in the old “Winston Cup” points format, but, it would not be the last time Elliott came up just short.

1987: A Good Season Against Great Competition

In 1987, Bill Elliott put together another solid season. He won 6 races with 16 top-5s and 20 top-10s in 29 races. This was also a record-setting year for Elliott as he recorded the two fastest pole speeds in NASCAR history before the Daytona 500 and the Winston 500 at Talladega.

Most years, this resume would be enough to at least be close to a title, but, he fell 489 points short of the title. It wasn’t even close, and that was due to an incredible run by Dale Earnhardt. The rivalry between the two can perfectly be encapsulated with the “Pass in the Grass” from the 1987 All-Star Race.

Earnhardt was in his prime in 1987, and no one was going to stop him. He tied he then-career high in the top 10s (24) despite having 2 fewer races to do it. He also set a career-high in wins (11) and top-5s (21). Earnhardt led the points from the 2nd race of the season onwards.

This was the story with Elliott and other great drivers of his era like Mark Martin and Harry Gant. They put together very good seasons, while drivers like Dale Earnhardt were putting together all-time great seasons. Simply put, no one could match Earnhardt, but, Elliott got his redemption in 1988 by winning his own Cup Series Championship.

1992: The Collapse of Junior Johnson & Associates

After a decline in performance at Melling Racing in the early 1990s, Bill Elliott moved to one of the premier Cup Series teams of the time, Junior Johnson and Associates. With former Championship crew chief Tim Brewer, Elliott was a favorite to take home his second Winston Cup. The season started off well with 4 straight wins early in the season, and Elliott grabbing the points lead late in the summer.

However, things began to unravel within the team as autumn came, and Tim Brewer breaks down everything that went down in the below episode of the Scene Vault Podcast. After dominating at Dover, Johnson overrode Brewer’s pit call on the final stop, which cost Elliott a critical victory. This sent the team into a downward spiral, and things began to fracture.

Elliott finished 26th or worse in 4 of the next 5 races including an engine failure and 2 mechanical failures. This dropped Elliott from 1st to 3rd in the standings, but, he was still within striking distance of the title at the season finale Hooters 500 at Atlanta. Points leader Davey Allison crashed out with 74 laps to go, so, the door was wide open for Elliott and Championship rival, Alan Kulwicki.

With both drivers clearly the top 2 cars on track, the Championship came down to whoever led the most laps. Kulwicki stayed out an extra lap despite a call from the team to pit, and Elliott came in one lap after. Elliott took the lead back, but, Terry Labonte stayed out an extra lap and led 1 lap. Kulwicki took the most laps led bonus after leading 1 more lap than Elliott, and Kulwicki won by only 10 points. Brewer was fired after the race.

This loss was definitely not on Elliott as his team was fractured due to Johnson and Brewer bickering late in the season. Unfortunately, this was Elliott’s last shot at a title as he never finished higher than 8th in the standings for the rest of his career. A missed opportunity that turned out to be his last chance.

Each season fell apart for Elliott for completely different reasons. One year was a late collapse, another was trying to compete with an All-Time Great season, and the last was primarily due to infighting. Regardless, Elliott can take some solace in that he does have one Championship, which can never be taken away.


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