Breaking Down the Best Chance for Winless NASCAR Stars to Get a Victory in 2014
How is it that four drivers who account for 14 Sprint Cup championships between them have yet to win even one race in 2014?
It's true: Six-time and defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, four-time champ and current Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, three-time champ Tony Stewart and one-time champ Matt Kenseth have all gone through the first 10 races this season without even one reaching victory lane.
With Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, we thought we'd do a little prognostication on when and where we think those four drivers as well as a mix of six others will finally break through and visit victory lane.
If you think otherwise, let us know.
Also, one point of reference: Several of our picks may share the same track as the most likely locale for them to earn their first win of 2014.
When you have 88 career Sprint Cup wins, you're a threat to win anywhere on the circuit.
But even though he's been atop the Cup points standings for the last four weeks, Jeff Gordon still hasn't been able to drive the No. 24 to Victory Lane.
Including Kansas, Gordon has amassed a combined total of 30 wins at the next eight tracks on the schedule.
While Gordon has won twice at Kansas, three tracks in particular—Charlotte (five wins), Daytona and Pocono (six wins each)—stand out as likely places where Gordon will finally break through for his first triumph of 2014.
Prediction: Gordon cashes in two weeks from now in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And if not there, four weeks from now (June 8) at Pocono.
How does a guy who never won more than three races in any one season previously go out and win a career- and series-best seven races in 2013?
And with a new team, too!
But that's what Matt Kenseth did after leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing.
At this point last season, Kenseth already had three wins in his wallet. But not so in 2014. While he's maintained consistency like Gordon that has kept him in second place for the last five weeks, Kenseth needs to prove that last year's seven wins was not a fluke.
Prediction: Dover on June 1. Kenseth has two wins and 19 top-10 finishes in 30 starts around the one-mile concrete oval. While he also has two wins at Kansas, Dover plays more to Kenseth's strength for an overall better chance for success.
If not Dover, Michigan on June 15 is our second choice for where Kenseth reaches victory lane. In 29 prior career starts there, Kenseth has two wins and 18 top-10 finishes.
Jimmie Johnson can win on any track, any day, any time, any way.
He just hasn't done so yet in 2014, prompting fans and media alike to wonder, "What's wrong with Jimmie?"
Answer: Nothing's wrong at all.
Johnson has had prior years where he's been slow to reach Victory Lane, but once he finds it for the first time in a season, multiple wins usually follow.
And we believe 2014 will be no different.
It's not like Johnson has forgotten how to drive or win. He just hasn't been able to capitalize on the opportunities he's had.
Prediction: Although he's had an outstanding run at Kansas with two wins and 13 top-10 finishes in 15 overall starts, we think JJ will have to wait one more week.
For it's at Charlotte (six wins, 16 top-10 finishes in 25 starts) where we think he has the best chance. And if not there, you can almost bet the farm that Johnson cashes in the following week at Dover (eight wins, 17 top-10s in 24 career starts).
When Tony Stewart was the fastest in Friday's second practice at Kansas, you'd have thought he actually had won the race, given the emotion displayed by the fans in attendance.
Stewart continues to be hounded by question marks that he's still not 100 percent recovered from last summer's devastating sprint car crash that cost him to miss the final 15 races of the season due to multiple fractures in his leg.
Prediction: Stewart WILL get his first win, but his fans are going to have to wait a bit. We think Smoke finally reaches Victory Lane in the Coke Zero 400 on July 5 at Daytona International Speedway.
In the meantime, look for Stewart to string together a few top-10 finishes along the way, most likely at a place like Dover. And if he indeed wins at Daytona, don't be surprised if Smoke puts together back-to-back wins and also reaches Victory Lane at Loudon, New Hampshire on July 13.
Greg Biffle is a Ford guy, through and through.
And where do Ford guys typically do their best?
Right in team co-owner Jack Roush's own backyard, Michigan International Speedway (Roush's corporate headquarters are in nearby Livonia, Michigan.
Prediction: In 22 career starts at the two-mile MIS, Biffle has been one of the most successful drivers overall, with four wins and 14 top-10 finishes. Like Rudy winning one for the Gipper, Biffle will win one for the Cat in the Hat on June 15.
So much has been said about Clint Bowyer still not having a win on his home track at Kansas.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Bowyer's lack of success there will continue Saturday night, and he'll remain winless so far in 2014.
Prediction: We're going to throw everyone for a big loop with this one. After looking deep into our crystal ball, we see Bowyer getting his first win of 2014 on June 22 at Sonoma, California.
The reason: In eight career starts at the nearly two-mile road course, Bowyer has six top-10 finishes, including one win. He also does well at Michigan (no wins, but eight top-10 finishes in 16 starts), but for our money Sonoma will be where Bowyer finally hits victory lane in 2014.
Admittedly, it's been a rough season for Kasey Kahne thus far, although he's definitely shown signs of significant improvement in his last two races (14th at Richmond, eighth at Talladega).
Kahne is typically good for one or two wins in a season, and 2014 will be no different.
All Kahne needs is to reach Victory Lane once in the coming weeks and he could start to breath a bit easier. It's clear that he and his team have been frustrated by some of the finishes they've had thus far, but sometimes you have to go through some stormy seas before it becomes smooth sailing—and that's exactly what we see ahead for Kahne.
Prediction: Kahne has two places where we can easily see him earning win No. 1 and potentially even No. 2. His best chance, in our opinion, is at Charlotte in two weeks. In 20 career starts there, Kahne has four wins and 12 top-10 finishes. We also like his chances at Pocono (20 starts, two wins, seven top-10s) on June 8.
Ryan Newman is enjoying a career resurgence of sorts with his new team in 2014, Richard Childress Racing.
After being unceremoniously dumped by Stewart Haas Racing following last season, Newman came into 2014 with plenty to prove, and he's certainly done quite a bit of proving already.
Prediction: Newman typically does very well on one-mile tracks. That's why we expect to see him in victory lane twice in the next two months.
And yes, we know that's a bold prediction, but Newman is certainly capable of doing so. We expect Newman to cash in at his 25th career start at both Dover (three wins, 12 top-10s) on June 1 and then again on July 13 at New Hampshire (three wins, 15 top-10s).
It's very difficult to predict with even the slightest bit of certainty that a rookie is going to break through and earn a win in his first full-time season on the Sprint Cup level.
But Kyle Larson has been breaking all preconceptions of what a Sprint Cup rookie can or can't do.
Larson has knocked on victory's door several times already this season, most notably at Fontana where he won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday and finished runner-up in the Sprint Cup event the following day.
This quiet but fiercely competitive 21-year-old not only is the real deal, he's going to become one of NASCAR's biggest stars and champions in due time.
Prediction: Larson is too good to go through his entire rookie campaign without even one win. In fact, we fully expect him to win two, maybe even three races this season in the Cup series. He starts with his surprising first triumph at what is essentially his "home track," the road course at Sonoma Raceway.
Like a jockey riding a thoroughbred, there's nothing that Larson can't drive or win with. And if for whatever reason he falls short at Sonoma, we also like his chances at Michigan International Speedway (the kid loves pure, unadulterated speed, and MIS will give him plenty of that) the week before Sonoma or in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
Any way you look at it, no matter where Larson earns his first win, the track is likely going to be a surprise. In fact, although we're not officially picking him to do so, we wouldn't be surprised to see Larson earn his first career Cup win Saturday night in Kansas.
Laugh if you must, but we still feel (and we may very well be the only one who thinks this way) that Danica Patrick is a win waiting to happen.
The only problem is where and when, because based upon what she's done so far in her brief Sprint Cup career, Patrick really hasn't done much to stand out at any particular track.
Sure, Patrick has struggled again in her second full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series. She's shown very little in terms of major progress or gains.
But at the same time, she indeed has shown smaller incremental improvement and progress, albeit not likely as significant as she or her team would like. It's not been much, but it could be worse.
What's more, we've also noticed a trend with Patrick: She seems to do better overall on either the shortest of tracks or the longest of tracks. Of course, she's running good when she typically winds up in trouble, either wrecked out or in a feud with a rival driver.
Prediction: If Patrick is to win a race this season, it's likely to be at one of two tracks in our opinion. Odds are she likely won't win at either place, but she has the best chance of doing so at either Daytona on July 5 or Bristol's infamous night race on August 23.
And frankly, all she needs is a chance and to be in the right place at the right time.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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