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The surprising struggle faced by 7-time champions

Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar have produced several seven-time champions. None of them ever managed to win title number eight.

As challenging as winning a championship is, it is not super uncommon across Formula 1, the NASCAR Cup Series and IndyCar for a driver to win multiple titles.

In fact, across all three series, there have been six seven-time champions. In Formula 1, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have pulled it off. In the Cup Series, the three drivers who have pulled it off are Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. A.J. Foyt is the only driver to do it in IndyCar (USAC).

Yet none of those seven drivers have ever managed to win an eighth title.

That shouldn’t come as a huge shock, considering how challenging it is to remain at the top of anything for an extended period of time, especially in a sport where each individual is competing against a several other individuals to be number one, year after year.

But the difference in success between five and six-time champions and seven-time champions is astounding — and inexplicable.

As a seven-time champion, Schumacher had a chance to win an eighth title five times. He won his seventh title in 2004, and he competed in 2005 and 2006 and then again from 2010 to 2012.

Hamilton nearly became the driver to end this drought last December, but he was passed by Max Verstappen on the final lap of the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton and Verstappen had entered the race tied on points, so Verstappen secured the title. So he is 0 for 1, but he is set to get at least one more shot.

Petty won his seventh championship in 1979 but failed on all 13 of his attempts to win an eighth. Earnhardt, who won his seventh title in 1994, was killed on the final lap of the first race, the Daytona 500, of his seventh attempt in 2001.

Johnson, who joined these two legends as a seven-time champion in 2016, retired after four attempts to become an eight-time champion.

Foyt, like Petty, won his seventh title in 1979. He spent three more seasons as a full-time driver from then until his retirement in 1993.

Add that all up, and seven-time champions are 0 for 33 in terms of trying to become eight-time champions.

Yet as five-time champions and six-time champions, these drivers had incredible success. Schumacher and Hamilton both became six-time champions the year after they won their fifth titles (2003 and 2019). They both became seven-time champions the year after they won their sixth titles (2004 and 2020) as well.

Petty became a six-time champion the year after winning his fifth title (1975), and he became a seven-time champion four years later (1979).

Earnhardt became a six-time champion two years after winning his fifth title (1993), and he became a seven-time champion the following year (1994). Johnson became a six-time champion three years after winning his fifth title (2013), and he became a seven-time champion three years later (2016).

Foyt is really the only outlier among five-time champions. He didn’t win his sixth until 1975, eight years after winning his fifth. As a six-time champion, it took him another four years to win his seventh title in 1979.

Across these three series, there are only two other drivers to win at least five titles: Juan Manuel Fangio in Formula 1 and Scott Dixon in IndyCar. The former did not compete after winning his fifth title in 1957, while Dixon won his fifth in 2018 and his sixth in 2020. Dixon did not win his seventh in 2021, making him 0 for 1 thus far.

So add that all up, and five-time champions are 7 for 18 in terms of becoming six-time champions, and six-time champions are 6 for 15 in terms of becoming seven-time champions.

Yet seven-time champions are 0 for 33 in terms of adding that elusive eighth title. Aside from Hamilton and Dixon, the only active multiple-time champions in these series are two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, and two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden.

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