75th Anniversary Feature: Michigan Has Seldon Been A Venue For One Hit Wonders

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

David Pearson may have been the Dominator at Darlington Raceway in his native South Carolina, but the NASCAR Hall of Famer had a home away from home in the Irish Hills of Michigan.

Pearson won 10 poles and nine races at Michigan International Speedway—both track records—and during his tenure with the Wood Brothers in the 1970s, he was all but invincible at the 2.0-mile track. 

A master of the larger speedways, Pearson enjoyed the smooth surface and multiple racing lanes he found at Michigan, though that venue stood in marked contrast to rough, abrasive 1.366-mile Darlington, where he won a record 10 times. 

In 1969, driving for Holman-Moody, the Silver Fox won the second of 105 NASCAR Cup Series races held so far at Michigan—from the pole, no less. In seven years with the Wood Brothers, from 1972-1978, he dominated the sprawling asphalt track the way no other driver has done since then.

During one stretch of nine Michigan races with the Woods, Pearson won seven times and finished second and third in the two races he didn’t win. From 1976 through 1979, he won six straight poles, the last coming during his one season with owner Rod Osterlund.

Though Pearson’s prolific success puts him at the top of the pyramid, his story is hardly unique. NASCAR Cup drivers who win at Michigan tend to do so multiple times, as the history of the track attests. 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough, who won the first Michigan race in 1969, went on to win at the track Roger Penske built seven more times, ending with a sweep of the two 1983 races. 

Fellow Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who succeeded Yarborough as the Master of Michigan, was a seven-time winner at the speedway from 1984-1989. Elliott’s run included four straight victories comprised of season sweeps in 1985 and 1986. 

Kyle Larson’s Cup career got the catalyst it needed at MIS. Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson won his first Cup race at Michigan in his 99th start, in his second race at the track in 2016. He went on to sweep the two events of 2017, giving him three straight wins at the venerable speedway.

More recently, Kevin Harvick won his sixth Michigan race last year, breaking a 65-race drought in the process. Harvick, who will retire from Cup racing at season’s end, has won four of the last five races at MIS. 

Last year’s win proved a point for the 2014 Cup champion, who was emphatic in his post-race comments.

“Everybody who doubted us doesn’t know us,” said Harvick, who now has 60 Cup Series victories, second-most to Kyle Busch’s 63 among active drivers. “They obviously know we thrive in these types of situations. And a lot of things went our way, which we haven’t had all year long—have things go our way and have things fall our way.”

Thanks to Harvick’s resilience, Ford retained the Michigan Heritage Trophy for the fifth consecutive season. The award goes to the manufacturer with the best performance at MIS. 

Ford drivers have won the last eight Michigan races, including Harvick’s sweep of both events on consecutive days during the restructuring of the schedule in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year, in NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season, Harvick looks to break another drought. He is winless since his triumph at Richmond in the 24th event of 2022. 

Given the historical propensity of drivers to rack up impressive victory totals at the high-speed track, it might not be wise to bet against him.

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