We measure investing wins and losses by how a stock performs against the broader market, with most benchmarking against the S&P 500. While many investors assume that high-octane growth stocks give them the best chance to earn market-beating returns, dividend growth stocks have trounced their nonpaying peers over the last several decades.

According to a study by Ned Davis Research, companies that increased their dividends on a consistent basis have delivered a total annual return of nearly 10.1% going all the way back to 1972. That has not only outpaced the S&P 500's 7.7% yearly total return over that time frame, but also the paltry 2.6% average annual gain of nonpayers.

Given that data, it would behoove investors to focus more on finding companies poised to grow their dividends at a healthy pace, since that would theoretically provide them with more fuel to outperform. That's why investors won't want to miss what oil driller EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) has on tap. While its paltry 0.6%-yielding dividend might not appeal to income investors, its dividend growth prospects have the potential to continue fueling market-smashing returns.

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A jaw-dropping dividend growth history

EOG Resources has quietly been one of the better dividend growth stocks since it began paying one in early 1998. From that starting point, the oil giant has increased its payout at a remarkable 19% compound annual growth rate, boosting it a stunning 2,366% overall. That rapidly growing income stream has richly rewarded investors by fueling an equally impressive total return of 2,620% over that time frame, which has pulverized the 305% total return generated by the S&P 500.

However, like most oil stocks, EOG Resources lacked the fuel to grow its dividend during the industry's most recent downturn. Because of that, the company pressed the pause button on dividend growth in 2015. While that ended a 16-year streak of consecutive dividend increases, it could have been far worse.

Many of its peers slashed or eliminated their dividends to preserve cash. Former dividend stalwarts ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) were among the many that caved under the pressure of lower oil prices, with ConocoPhillips slicing its payout by two-thirds, while Anadarko slashed its dividend by 82%.

Reset and ready to hit the accelerator

By preserving cash during the industry's dark days, and making changes to drive down costs, oil companies are in a position to begin returning more money to shareholders now that market conditions are on the upswing. ConocoPhillips has already increased its payout 14% in the last two years, while Anadarko jacked its dividend up fivefold, putting it within striking distance of its former peak. EOG, meanwhile, restarted dividend growth this year by raising its payout 10.4%.

That increase is only the beginning for EOG Resources. The oil driller repositioned its business to thrive as long as oil remains above $50 a barrel. At that price point, the company can generate enough cash flow to fund its current dividend and invest in drilling the new wells needed to grow its U.S. oil production at a more than 15% compound annual growth rate. That oil-fueled growth would expand cash flow at an even greater pace. Meanwhile, with crude currently near $70 a barrel, EOG is in position to produce a significant windfall of excess cash going forward.

Because of that, EOG believes it can grow its dividend at an accelerated pace. In fact, it aims to increase the payout at a greater than 19% compound annual growth rate going forward, which is the pace it has kept up since 1999. That higher-octane dividend growth could provide EOG with the fuel it needs to continue delivering market-smashing returns.

This factor yields a higher return in the long run

Most dividend investors focus on stocks with higher yields because they want to generate more income now. As a result, they'll likely take one look at EOG Resources' paltry 0.6%-yielding payout and toss it aside. That approach, however, can cause them to miss out on an even bigger payday, which is what EOG has provided its investors over the years with its fast-paced dividend growth. That's why investors won't want to miss the fact that this oil giant is about to hit the accelerator on dividend growth, which could be its ticket to delivering continued outperformance. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.