In NASCAR, second place is the first loser. But just how big of a loser do drivers become the season after finishing second in the Sprint Cup Series point standings?
The answer is: Pretty damn big – at least for most of the Chase Era.
Since 2005, every runner-up in the season standings has seen his win total and points position decline the following year – often significantly.
Second-place drivers have averaged six wins over the past seven seasons; the next year, those same drivers average less than one win. In addition, the runner-up drivers have dropped to a 10th-place average points finish the season after their near-championship.
If this trend continues, 2011 Chase runner-up Carl Edwards could be in serious trouble.
But is there something to these numbers, or is it just a coincidence?
"I think there's something to it – there's gotta be," said Denny Hamlin, the 2010 runner-up who fell to ninth in points this season. "It's not just random numbers that you see."
Hamlin said after finishing second – especially after a close championship loss like the one his team endured – it's tough to rally the following season.
"It's like, 'Man, we just gave it our best effort and came up that short,'" he said.
After the banquet last year, Hamin said he was burnt out on racing and couldn't wait to get a break. But in Las Vegas, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said he was already looking forward to next season much more. That led him to conclude the pressure and stress of the Chase can take such a toll on the second-place drivers that it's capable of spilling over into the following year.
Another factor, Hamlin said, is teams get complacent after a runner-up finish.
"Sometimes you think, 'Man, if we just change this one little thing, we'd be champions,'" Hamlin said. "Well, right now (in the offseason), everyone is making these huge, wholesale changes. And whatever these teams do in these next two months is really going to decide who our champion is next year."
So is the curse of the second-place finisher real? Look at the numbers below and decide for yourself.
|Season||2nd-place driver (wins)||Following season (wins)|
|2011||Carl Edwards (1)||???|
|2010||Denny Hamlin (8)||9th (1)|
|2009||Mark Martin (5)||13th (0)|
|2008||Carl Edwards (9)||11th (0)|
|2007||Jeff Gordon (6)||8th (0)|
|2006||Matt Kenseth (4)||4th (2)|
|2005 (tie)||Carl Edwards (4)||12th (0)|
|2005 (tie)||Greg Biffle (6)||13th (2)|