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How Austin Dillon’s first two Cup wins stack up against other drivers

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It took Austin Dillon until his fourth full-time season to finally visit victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series.

In his 133rd start, in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, the Richard Childress Racing driver took his first trip to victory lane.

Dillon only needed 24 more races to make a return visit, winning Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The 27-year-old driver claimed victories in two of NASCAR’s crown jewel events to begin his climb up the all-time wins list.

How do those two victories compare to the initial set of wins for other notable drivers throughout NASCAR history?

David Pearson

The second winningest driver in Cup history and a NASCAR Hall of Famer, Pearson also got his first victory in NASCAR’s longest race on May 26, 1961, beating Fireball Roberts and Rex White.

Win No. 2 came two months later in the July race at Daytona, the Firecracker 250.

Jeff Gordon in victory lane following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon

In his second full-time season in 1994, Gordon went to victory lane for the first time in the Coca-Cola 600. It came in his 42nd start in the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Two months later, Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was his first of five victories at the track located minutes away from his hometown of Pittsboro.

Bobby Labonte

If you can’t tell, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been kind to drivers looking for their first Cup win.

A year after Gordon won the Coke 600, Labonte followed with his own victory in the race. Driving the No. 18 for JGR, he won over his brother Terry.

Bobby Labonte’s second win came at Michigan International Speedway in June 1995.

Matt Kenseth

As a rookie in 2000, the former Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing driver claimed his first Cup win in the Coke 600, beating Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt. It was in his 18th start (his first was in 1998).

Kenseth’s second win came in the spring 2002 race at Rockingham.

Terry Labonte

The two-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer claimed his first victory in the 1980 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

He only led the final two laps and had to pass Pearson at the start-finish line in a race back to the caution.

Labonte’s second win came three years later at Rockingham.

Sterling Marlin

Marlin made his first Cup start in 1976 at Nashville Speedway.

But his first visit to victory lane didn’t come until 18 year later in the 1994 Daytona 500.  The win was in Marlin’s 279th start.

His second win came a year later – in the Daytona 500. Marlin is the last driver to win the “Great American Race” in consecutive years.

Michael Waltrip

Waltrip had a lot more starts before achieving his first Cup win – 462. In start 463, Waltrip won the 2001 Daytona 500 for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

He didn’t have to wait quite as long to get win No. 2. That came in July 2002 in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. All four of Waltrip’s Cup wins came at restrictor-plate tracks.

Dale Jarrett

The NASCAR Hall of Famer and NBC Sports analyst also took awhile to get his first victory. After eight years and 129 starts, Jarrett got his first victory in a photo finish over Davey Allison at Michigan while driving for Wood Brothers Racing.

Two years later, Jarrett returned to victory lane in the Daytona 500 in one of the most iconic finishes in NASCAR history, beating Dale Earnhardt to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its first NASCAR win.

Jamie McMurray

It only took two starts for McMurray to get his first win.

Substituting for an injured Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 car, McMurray won the fall 2002 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He wouldn’t win again until 2007.

In a common theme with this look back, win No. 2 took place at Daytona. Driving for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray won the Pepsi 400 by .005 seconds over Kyle Busch.

 

NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

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The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett preview upcoming races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his weekly appearance on the show.

Krista Voda hosts with Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· Not long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bragged about his ability to remember who he’s beaten for wins in past races. In this episode, we’ll test his memory in a trivia game called “Who Did Junior Pass For The Win?” We’ll be taking your questions for Junior throughout the show. Just send it on social media with the hashtag #Wednesdale.

· Sonoma begins a critical summer stretch for the Monster Energy Cup Series. With Chicagoland, Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire on the horizon, teams will be challenged and playoff hopes will rise and fall. Dale Jr. & Dale Jarrett preview the upcoming races.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones at Sonoma

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Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones when the series visits Sonoma Raceway this weekend.

Ryan Newman leads the way with his 600th Cup start.

The Richard Childress Racing driver will become the 28th driver to reach the mark. His first start came on Nov. 5, 2000 at ISM Raceway with Team Penske.

Newman is one of four remaining active Cup drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Derrike Cope, who competed against Dale Earnhardt in a Cup points race. Only Newman and Busch compete full-time.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will make his 450th start. He will become the 52nd driver to reach that mark.

Hamlin’s first start came on Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway. All of his starts have been with JGR.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his 200th career start. He will be the 132nd driver to reach that mark.

Stenhouse’s first start came in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 with Wood Brothers Racing when he substituted for Trevor Bayne, who was out due to illness. Every other start has been with Roush Fenway Racing.

The last race at Michigan International Speedway saw AJ Allmendinger make his 350th Cup start. 71 drivers have reached that mark.

How much does starting position matter at Sonoma?

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Do you need to qualify on the pole, the front row or the even the top five to better your chances of winning a NASCAR race?

On a typical race weekend one would think that’s the case. Through 15 races this season, the winner has started in the top five eight times. Only four winners started 10th or worse.

But this isn’t a typical race weekend as the Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway for its first road course race of the season.

The series has held 29 races at the road course since 1989. In those 29 races, the winner started from the pole five times (17.2 percent).

That makes it the most prolific starting position at the track in terms of wins.

But a winner hasn’t come from the pole since 2004 when Jeff Gordon did it for a track-best third time.

The driver starting second has won three times, the last occurring in 2010 with Jimmie Johnson. Since that race, only one Sonoma winner – Carl Edwards (fourth) in 2014 – has started in the top five.

In the 13 races since Gordon last won from the pole, the race winner started in the top five three times.

The last three races saw the winner start 11th (Kyle Busch), 10th (Tony Stewart) and 12th (Kevin Harvick).

In contrast, the 14 races from 1992-2005 saw every race winner came from inside the top 10 and 11 from the top five.

What’s changed? Road course racing became much more aggressive with the transition to double fire restarts in 2009. The introduction of stage racing last year added another wrinkle to a type of racing that already saw aggressive pit strategy.

But Sonoma isn’t too kind to drivers starting in the back half of the field.

The deepest in the field that a race winner has started is 32nd, when Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007. Only one other time has the winner come from outside the top 15, when Kyle Busch started 30th and won in 2008.