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Irvan Was On Cusp Of Greatness

It’s unfortunate that life has a way of derailing things and you’re left to look at what was and think of what could have been. This ‘what if’ game is one I play often when it comes to NASCAR. If this or that happened, what would have been the immediate impact/result and what would have been the long term result?

One such example is Ernie Irvan’s 1994 near fatal crash at the Michigan International Speedway. After suffering a basilar skull fracture, the same injury that later killed drivers Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin Jr, and Dale Earnhardt (to name a few), Irvan is one of the few people lucky enough to have survived that sort of injury. Not only did Irvan survive, but he was able to return to NASCAR just over a year later, an amazing feat considering others who did survive never raced again.

Life on track was never quite the same for Irvan, results not near where he was prior to the accident. By the end of 1996 long time crew chief Larry McReynolds left the Robert Yates Racing organization and by the end of 1997 Irvan also left the team. After two years with MB2 Motorsports and a few more injuries, Irvan retired near the end of the 1999 season.

What some fans might not remember is how dominate the Yates/McReynolds/Irvan team was. Taking a look at the 29 races they ran together from race 22 of the 1993 season at Darlington until race 20 of the 1994 at Watkins Glenis quite impressive.

Irvan ranked first in poles (7), races led (24), laps led (2,675), and average starting position (5.66). He was second in wins (Rusty Wallace had 10 to Irvan’s 5), second in top-5s (Wallace had 19 to Irvan’s 18), and second in average finishing position (9.34, Dale Earnhardt was 7.97). He was tied with Wallace for top-10s (Earnhardt had 23, Irvan/Wallace 21). He ranked third behind Earnhardt and Wallace with 18 lead lap finishes, they had 20.

When looking at points, Dale Earnhardt had the most at 4,365, but Irvan was not that far back at 4,328. Had Irvan ran the full 1994 season, it would have been an epic battle between he, Rusty Wallace, and Dale Earnhardt for the title.

Below is the list of drivers who ran races during the time span, sorted by total points earned.

Driver St Pole Win Top5 Top10 Laps Comp Laps Comp % Lead Lap Fin Laps Led Races Led DNFs Avg St Avg Fin Points
Dale Earnhardt 29 2 3 18 23 9042 96.3% 20 800 20 2 12.21 7.97 4365
Ernie Irvan 29 7 5 18 21 8533 90.9% 18 2675 24 4 5.66 9.34 4328
Rusty Wallace 29 3 10 19 21 8902 94.8% 20 2547 20 3 10.86 9.93 4268
Mark Martin 29 2 3 14 18 8771 93.4% 15 771 17 6 8.79 11.59 3987
Ricky Rudd 29 0 1 7 17 8997 95.8% 15 116 9 2 15.69 10.72 3947
Ken Schrader 29 1 0 8 19 9086 96.8% 13 168 8 1 11.24 12.10 3822
Morgan Shepherd 29 0 0 6 14 8756 93.2% 14 15 8 2 17.52 14.14 3608
Bill Elliott 29 2 0 7 12 8748 93.2% 13 31 6 3 13.90 14.69 3561
Michael Waltrip 29 0 0 2 10 9059 96.5% 9 7 4 2 20.69 15.10 3473
Kyle Petty 29 0 0 4 9 9069 96.6% 9 70 3 1 23.69 15.62 3432
Darrell Waltrip 29 0 0 4 11 9211 98.1% 11 117 6 0 22.62 16.10 3425
Terry Labonte 29 0 1 2 9 8763 93.3% 10 112 7 4 18.10 16.10 3409
Jeff Gordon 29 2 2 6 12 8281 88.2% 11 419 15 10 10.76 18.00 3322
Dale Jarrett 29 0 0 4 8 8405 89.5% 8 45 9 6 22.93 18.34 3218
Sterling Marlin 29 0 1 3 7 8825 94.0% 6 130 8 4 15.07 19.00 3159
Bobby Labonte 29 1 0 0 3 8818 93.9% 6 20 5 3 20.24 18.86 3123
Lake Speed 27 0 0 2 5 8097 93.7% 8 8 3 2 27.96 17.04 3064
Ted Musgrave 29 1 0 0 6 8481 90.3% 7 49 3 5 20.90 19.62 3051
Rick Mast 29 1 0 1 8 8241 87.8% 5 120 7 8 18.59 21.59 2911
Brett Bodine 28 0 0 3 7 7637 85.9% 9 38 5 6 14.29 20.68 2901
Jimmy Spencer 28 0 2 4 7 7692 82.7% 6 97 5 7 18.21 20.82 2901
Harry Gant 28 1 0 2 9 6916 77.8% 5 241 6 7 20.21 21.18 2852
Geoff Bodine 29 2 1 4 7 6876 73.2% 5 588 12 15 12.66 23.72 2786
Todd Bodine 28 0 0 1 5 7568 83.5% 6 19 4 6 20.96 22.64 2703
Hut Stricklin 28 0 0 0 1 8099 90.1% 1 0 0 5 26.86 23.93 2556
Greg Sacks 27 0 0 0 3 7866 90.6% 2 10 5 5 22.11 25.44 2379
Wally Dallenbach Jr 23 0 0 1 3 6796 90.6% 3 2 2 6 25.22 20.61 2350
Derrike Cope 28 0 0 0 0 7807 84.8% 0 10 2 10 22.00 27.29 2282
Bobby Hamilton 23 0 0 0 1 5805 85.5% 2 5 3 6 28.09 24.83 2053
Dave Marcis 22 0 0 0 1 6311 92.2% 2 22 5 3 30.50 25.09 1956
Joe Nemechek 20 0 0 1 3 5410 90.2% 3 0 0 5 20.45 22.70 1916
Jeff Burton 20 0 0 2 2 4770 82.6% 4 103 2 5 28.55 23.95 1851
Dick Trickle 22 0 0 1 2 5885 76.3% 1 3 1 7 23.59 27.18 1806
Jimmy Hensley 20 0 0 0 0 5044 82.8% 0 3 3 7 23.30 27.35 1634
Steve Grissom 18 0 0 0 1 4852 91.1% 1 0 0 3 25.33 24.50 1612
John Andretti 22 0 0 0 0 4690 69.8% 1 1 1 12 28.14 32.18 1467
Mike Wallace 15 0 0 0 0 3862 86.1% 3 0 0 3 29.00 23.13 1404
Bobby Hillin Jr 15 0 0 0 0 4759 90.5% 0 0 0 2 29.67 24.13 1359
Chuck Bown 14 1 0 0 1 4020 84.0% 1 0 0 3 21.21 23.43 1302
Loy Allen Jr 14 3 0 0 0 3032 72.4% 0 12 3 6 19.07 28.29 1109
Ward Burton 15 0 0 1 1 2557 59.4% 1 6 1 7 23.53 30.20 1104
Kenny Wallace 11 0 0 0 2 3247 81.1% 1 0 0 3 30.27 22.45 1055
Jeremy Mayfield 12 0 0 0 0 2948 94.2% 0 0 0 3 25.50 27.83 954
Jeff Purvis 11 0 0 0 0 3055 90.5% 0 3 2 4 26.27 26.18 939
Rich Bickle 12 0 0 0 0 2202 64.9% 1 0 0 7 25.75 31.08 837
Rick Wilson 8 0 0 0 0 2409 77.3% 0 0 0 1 26.75 28.88 611
Phil Parsons 5 0 0 0 1 1575 75.8% 1 3 1 1 27.20 21.20 504
Jimmy Means 4 0 0 0 0 1358 77.9% 0 1 1 1 36.00 27.75 324
Jimmy Horton 4 0 0 0 0 989 65.1% 0 0 0 3 26.75 28.25 313
Brad Teague 5 0 0 0 0 708 40.9% 0 0 0 3 38.40 34.20 302
Tim Steele 5 0 0 0 0 391 37.3% 0 0 0 4 31.20 38.80 233
Jay Hedgecock 3 0 0 0 0 909 69.9% 0 0 0 1 31.00 29.00 228
Randy LaJoie 2 0 0 0 0 692 98.9% 0 0 0 0 23.00 20.00 206
Rick Carelli 3 0 0 0 0 450 63.0% 0 0 0 2 28.67 32.33 198
Mike McLaughlin 2 0 0 0 0 386 99.0% 0 0 0 0 34.00 24.50 179
Billy Standridge 4 0 0 0 0 597 37.5% 0 0 0 3 27.25 40.50 166
Mike Chase 3 0 0 0 0 248 45.4% 0 0 0 2 38.67 37.33 153
Chad Little 2 0 0 0 0 510 95.5% 0 1 1 0 28.00 31.00 145
Ron Hornaday Jr 2 0 0 0 0 360 93.3% 0 0 0 0 21.00 30.50 143
Mike Skinner 2 0 0 0 0 614 72.8% 0 0 0 1 37.00 33.00 128
T.W. Taylor 2 0 0 0 0 254 31.0% 0 1 1 2 32.50 37.00 109
Joe Ruttman 1 0 0 0 0 199 99.5% 0 0 0 0 34.00 18.00 109
Tommy Kendall 1 0 0 0 0 88 97.8% 0 0 0 0 27.00 22.00 97
Bob Schacht 3 0 0 0 0 31 2.9% 0 0 0 3 33.67 39.33 92
Kirk Shelmerdine 1 0 0 0 0 179 95.2% 0 0 0 0 42.00 26.00 85
Butch Gilliland 1 0 0 0 0 72 97.3% 0 0 0 0 14.00 27.00 82
A.J. Foyt 1 0 0 0 0 156 97.5% 0 0 0 0 40.00 30.00 73
Butch Leitzinger 1 0 0 0 0 81 90.0% 0 0 0 1 38.00 31.00 70
Danny Sullivan 1 0 0 0 0 152 95.0% 0 0 0 0 26.00 33.00 64
Jerry O’Neil 1 0 0 0 0 311 93.1% 0 0 0 1 32.00 34.00 61
P.J. Jones 1 0 0 0 0 67 74.4% 0 0 0 1 35.00 35.00 58
Scott Lagasse 1 0 0 0 0 65 72.2% 0 0 0 0 26.00 36.00 55
H.B. Bailey 1 0 0 0 0 54 15.4% 0 0 0 1 40.00 37.00 52
Terry Fisher 1 0 0 0 0 132 42.3% 0 0 0 1 41.00 37.00 52
Geoff Brabham 1 0 0 0 0 127 79.4% 0 0 0 1 18.00 38.00 49
Jim Sauter 1 0 0 0 0 265 79.3% 0 0 0 1 29.00 38.00 49
Robby Gordon 1 0 0 0 0 69 34.5% 0 0 0 1 38.00 38.00 49
Rich Woodland Jr 1 0 0 0 0 114 36.5% 0 0 0 1 39.00 38.00 49
Jerry Hill 1 0 0 0 0 138 28.0% 0 0 0 1 40.00 38.00 49
Curtis Markham 1 0 0 0 0 32 9.8% 0 0 0 1 18.00 39.00 46
Robert Pressley 1 0 0 0 0 62 31.0% 0 0 0 1 19.00 40.00 43
Gary Collins 1 0 0 0 0 43 58.1% 0 0 0 0 43.00 40.00 43
John Krebs 1 0 0 0 0 18 24.3% 0 1 1 1 34.00 42.00 42
Andy Hillenburg 1 0 0 0 0 242 72.5% 0 0 0 1 25.00 41.00 40
Ritchie Petty 1 0 0 0 0 73 45.6% 0 0 0 1 35.00 41.00 40
Bob Keselowski 1 0 0 0 0 17 8.5% 0 0 0 1 42.00 41.00 40
Wayne Jacks 1 0 0 0 0 48 15.4% 0 0 0 1 43.00 41.00 40
Neil Bonnett 1 0 0 0 0 3 0.9% 0 0 0 1 35.00 42.00 37
Dirk Stephens 1 0 0 0 0 24 7.7% 0 0 0 1 42.00 42.00 37