Hall of Famers Posted Winning Numbers
by Tom Jensen January 14, 2022
The best of the best NASCAR racers found victory lane a high percentage of the times they raced.
There are many was to measure excellence in NASCAR: how many championships someone earns, how many races they win and how many top fives and top 10s they posted.
Certainly, one measure of success for drivers is winning percentage, a simple equation created by taking a driver’s victory total and dividing it by his number of starts.
Believe it or not, in the entire history of the NASCAR premier series dating back to 1949, when it was called the NASCAR Strictly Stock Division, just five drivers won as many as 15 percent of their starts. Here they are:
5. Junior Johnson, 16 percent
A first ballot Hall of Famer in the inaugural class of 2010, Wilkes County, North Carolina, legend Junior Johnson didn’t make a lot of premier series starts as a driver. In fact, Johnson’s total of 313 starts represents the fewest of these five winners, and by a fair amount. Johnson won a whopping 50 of those 313 starts before deciding to focus on team ownership.
Johnson’s best season came in 1965, when he entered 36 races and won 13 of them, a winning percentage of 36.1 percent. And as a team owner, Johnson did alright for himself as well, winning 132 races and six championships, three each with fellow Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (2012) and Darrell Waltrip (2012).
4. Richard Petty, 16.9 percent
Now this one might seem a little odd, given that Richard Petty’s (2010) career record of 200 race wins is nearly double the total of second-place David Pearson (2011), who won 105 times. But in a career that began in 1958 and continued until 1992, Petty set a record with 1,184 starts, which is more than double the number Pearson made. Of course, with 200 victories and seven premier series championships. Petty has nothing to be ashamed of.
If you want to talk truly mind-boggling numbers, consider Petty’s epic 1967 season. During that season alone, Petty won 27 races, more than most drivers win in their entire careers. And he won those 27 races in just 48 starts, a winning percentage for the full year of 56.3 percent. Like many of Petty’s records, this one almost certainly will never be seriously challenged.
3. David Pearson, 18.3 percent
Yes, Richard Petty’s victory total was nearly double that of David Pearson’s, but on a percentage basis, Pearson had the upped hand, winning 105 times in just 574 starts. Despite competing in 20 or more races in a single season just 11 times, Pearson won three championships, all in a four-year period from 1966-69.
In terms of single seasons, Pearson had a couple of impressive ones. In his second championship season of 1968, “The Silver Fox” was victorious in exactly one-third on starts, winning 16 of 48 races. Five years later, in 1973, Pearson drove the iconic Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Mercury to Victory Lane 11 times in just 18 starts, or 61.1 percent of the time.
2. Tim Flock, 20.9 percent
NASCAR’s second two-time premier series champion, Tim Flock wheeled his Hudson Hornet to a title in 1952 and then earned another crown in 1955, this time behind the wheel of one of Carl Kiekhaefer’s all-conquering Chrysler 300 coupes. For his career, Flock won 39 of 187 premier series races he entered, an impressive record.
Flock’s second championship season was also his best statistically, as he won 18 times in 39 starts, giving him a winning percentage of 46.2 percent for the year. Flock’s 18 wins set the single-season record for the premier series at the time.
Herb Thomas, 21.0 percent
The inspiration for the Doc Hudson character in the “Cars” film franchise, Herb Thomas dominated NASCAR’s first decade, winning 48 of 229 races in a 10-year career ultimately cut short by a serious racing accident. Between 1951 and ’56, Thomas won championships in ’51 and ’53, finished second in points three times and had a worst point finish of fifth.
Thomas won 12 races in 37 starts in 1953 and then followed it up a year later by winning another 12 races, this time in 34 starts, a 35.3 percent victory total. Fabulous, indeed.