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Has A NASCAR Driver Ever Led Every Lap Of A Race?

It’s common in NASCAR to see different drivers leading the race at various stages, with the lead often changing multiple times over the course of a lap. Every sport has unique historic feats, so you may be wondering whether a NASCAR driver has led every lap of a race or even lapped an entire field. 

NASCAR drivers have led every lap of a race on 3 occasions, with Cale Yarborough doing it in 1973 and 1978, and Jeff Burton doing it in 2000. This has not happened for decades, mainly because of NASCAR’s specs growing stricter to provide an equal playing field. 

Below, we will discuss which NASCAR drivers have led every lap of the race and won. We will also reveal which drivers have won races after lapping the entire field, and we will answer the burning question as to whether a driver completed every lap in a single NASCAR season. 

Which NASCAR Drivers Have Led Every Lap And Won?

2 NASCAR drivers have led every lap and won the race. Cale Yarborough has twice led every lap and won, doing it in 1973 and 1978, and Jeff Burton did the same in 2000. These are the only two drivers who have ever accomplished this feat.

Leading every lap in a race and winning is the staunch equivalent to a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in the NFL (minimum 30 pass attempts), a quadruple-double in the NBA, and a four-goal performance in the NHL. In other words, you won’t find too many instances of these events happening

NASCAR’s goal is always to ensure each race is competitive. Therefore, you can easily assume that they would strive to do everything in their power to prevent one driver from leading every lap in a race. However, there have been times when a NASCAR driver has led every lap in a race and won. It’s a rarity, but there are few instances when it has happened. 

Only two NASCAR drivers have accomplished the feat: Cale Yarborough (twice) in 1973 and 1978 and Jeff Burton in 2000. Okay, so perhaps it is even rarer than the examples from other leagues listed above, but we are talking about a three-to-five-hour event with no real breaks other than cautions and perhaps an occasional red flag. 

Jeff Burton’s New Hampshire Win

Some fans and even pundits might place an asterisk beside Jeff Burton’s win at the 2000 Dura Lube 300. Earlier that season, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr. were both killed during practice sessions, which prompted NASCAR to implement the restrictor plate. This reduced speeds by 10 mph (16 kph). 

Burton started on the outside pole, but he took pole-sitter Bobby Labonte’s spot away when the cars dived into Turn 1. The small number of caution flags, however, made this win impressive for Burton since over 90 percent of the race’s laps were run under green flag conditions. 

Cale Yarborough’s Wins

In 1973, Yarborough led every lap of the Southeastern 500, which you may know today as the Food City Dirt Race and formerly the Food City 500. Before NASCAR laid the dirt down onto the track’s cement and asphalt in 2021, this race ran for 500 laps, and Yarborough never looked back during that race in the spring of 1973. 

Yarborough’s second win after leading every lap came during the 1978 race at another short track called the Nashville Fairgrounds. This race ran for 420 laps. 

Why Is Leading Every Lap Such An Accomplishment?

Leading every lap is such a large accomplishment because there are a lot of things that can go wrong. A crash could occur, there could be a mistake with the driver’s pit crew, or anything else could go south. There are also the factors of dealing with lapped cars and the g-forces exerted on the driver, making it tough to go so long without making a single mistake.

Think about everything that can go wrong in a race. A member of the driver’s pit crew could fumble a lug nut, the gas man could take a few seconds longer than usual to churn out fuel, you name it. Then there is always the possibility of an inevitable crash. Even if the driver doesn’t get caught up in a wreck, crashes could still force them to slow down considerably. 

And while the field freezes when the caution flag waves these days, that wasn’t the case in Yarborough’s and Burton’s time. So to avoid all on-track incidents, maintaining a lead, enjoying consecutive perfect pit stops, and for all car components to work in sync with one another for between 300 and 500 laps is something beyond special. 

Short Track Dominance

There is also the fact that both Yarborough and Burton won these races at tracks that were 1.058 miles (1.703 km) in length or shorter. Bristol was the shortest, clocking in at 0.533 miles (0.858 km), while the Nashville Fairgrounds speedway measures 0.596 miles (0.959 km). 

Short tracks are known for having a high number of lead changes because, given their small size, drivers leading the race must deal with an influx of lapped cars. While lapped cars may give the leader courtesy and let them pass, this may not always be possible in heavy traffic. 

G-Forces Coming Into Play

Another thing to consider is that during Yarborough’s day, physical fitness was not on most drivers’ agendas. Or at least it wasn’t a top priority. When Burton’s time rolled around, the fitness craze was in its early days on the NASCAR scene. In the 2020s, drivers all follow physical fitness regimens to condition themselves against inevitable G-forces that are sure to spring up. 

G-forces are the additional pressure exerted onto the body when racing at high speeds. So if you weigh 160 lb (73 kg), you can feel as though your body weighs two or even three times as much when you whip around the turns and jet down the straightaway at a race track, even on short tracks. 

This can cause dizziness, disorientation, and nausea when exposed to excess G-forces for long periods. If this is not a situation you would be able to withstand for more than a few minutes, try doing so for a few hours. That’s what a NASCAR driver feels for the entire duration of a race – although they are far more used to it.

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR drivers have led every lap on just 3 occasions

• Cale Yarborough (twice) and Jeff Burton both did so on short tracks

• Doing this in a sport where lead changes are inevitable in every modern race is extremely impressive

Has A NASCAR Driver Ever Lapped The Field?

NASCAR drivers have won races after lapping the field. This has occurred 12 times in the history of NASCAR, being done by drivers such as Darrell Waltrip and Harry Gant (on two occasions for both), Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, and Kyle Petty.

NASCAR Drivers That Have Lapped The Field

DriverRaceTrack
Darrel Waltrip1982 Cracker Barrel Country Store 4201982 Busch Nashville 420Nashville Speedway (both)
Bobby Allison1982 Mason-Dixon 500Dover Downs International Speedway
Harry Gant1982 Virginia National Bank 5001991 Peak Antifreeze 500Martinsville SpeedwayDover Downs International Speedway
Cale Yarborough1982 Warner W. Hodgdon Carolina 500Rockingham Speedway
Dale Earnhardt1986 Atlanta Journal 500Atlanta International Raceway
Ricky Rudd1986 Sovran Bank 500Martinsville Speedway
Kyle Petty 1987 Coca-Cola 600Charlotte Motor Speedway
Geoff Bodine1994 Tyson Holly Farms 400North Wilkesboro Speedway

Leading every lap in a race and winning is quite a feat. But lapping the entire field en route to a big win is something that you may think is impossible on certain tracks. Imagine what kind of media frenzy would erupt if a driver lapped the entire field at the Daytona 500, given the track’s overall size, or if something like this occurred at a road course event. 

While it seems farfetched, NASCAR drivers have won races after lapping the field. With stricter specs in the 21st century, this would not be easy to accomplish in today’s landscape. But in the past, when the specs were not as strict, winning races while lapping the other competing cars was something that happened more than a few times. 

Has A NASCAR Driver Ever Finished Every Lap In A Season?

No NASCAR Cup Series driver has ever finished every lap in a season. The only NASCAR driver that has done this is Matt Crofton in the 2013 Truck Series. This is an excellent achievement, as aside from the skills required to navigate the other vehicles at every race, reliability plays a part too.

Imagine being such a dominant NASCAR driver that you drove every lap in a single season. This means finishing every race on the lead lap. In NASCAR’s earliest days with lesser specs, you can bet this would not have been easy unless you drove for a team with top-notch equipment. 

Even in today’s NASCAR landscape, this would not be easy. The best drivers during any given season have seen tire or engine trouble, served a black flag penalty, or got caught in a wreck that ended their day early. So while lapping the field to win a single race or to win after leading every lap is impressive, going an entire season on the lead lap is something of a legend. 

Only Matt Crafton in the 2013 NASCAR Truck Series completed every lap in a season, although the Truck Series ran just 22 races as opposed to 33 in the Xfinity Series and 36 points-paying events in the Cup Series. 

Close Calls

There have been a few close calls, however. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Austin Dillon came close in the Xfinity Series in 2006, 2010, and 2012, respectively. They each finished just one lap shy. Also, in the Truck Series, Travis Kvapil finished one short in 2003, while Joe Ruttman and Ron Hornaday Jr. came within two laps in 1995 and 1996. 

Even the NASCAR Cup Series had its fair share of close calls, one of which occurred in 2000 with Bobby Labonte and again in 2010 with Matt Kenseth. Kenseth was just eight laps short of the feat in 2010, while Labonte needed just nine more laps. 

Most Laps Led In NASCAR History

When you go back into NASCAR’s illustrious history, you will find legendary NASCAR drivers in each era. Lee Petty dominated NASCAR’s earliest days, among others. And his son Richard remains arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history. Dale Earnhardt is a legend, and Jeff Gordon seemed to conquer every track he ever raced on. 

There are others who were always fast, competing for wins every time they pulled their car onto the track. But only one driver can hold the title of leading the most laps in the sport’s history. As of 2022, that record holder is none other than the King, Richard Petty. 

KEY FACT: Richard Petty has led the most laps in NASCAR history, with a total of 51,406

He also holds the NASCAR record for the highest number of wins with 200, pole positions at 123, and most laps completed at 307,836. Petty is also one of three drivers (Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson are the other two) to have won seven NASCAR Cup Championships.

Final Thoughts

There have been 3 instances where a NASCAR driver has won a race after leading every lap. This is exceptionally difficult because there’s an abundance of things that can go wrong. 12 NASCAR drivers have also lapped the whole field before, but nobody has completed every lap in a Cup Series season.