Winless NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Most in Need of a Victory
Eleven races into the 2014 season, several of the biggest names in NASCAR have yet to win a race in the Sprint Cup Series.
Chief among them is defending champion Jimmie Johnson, who made it clear prior to this season that he and crew chief Chad Knaus were on a mission to secure their seventh Cup title. That, of course, would also secure Johnson's place as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, as it would tie him with Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for the most championships in a career.
However, Johnson hasn't dwelled on it too much.
"It's been out of mind, for sure," he told NASCAR.com's David Caraviello prior to the season.
But he is far from alone when it comes to the surprisingly long list of notable drivers without a win this season. The list also includes three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart (pictured above, right, with Johnson), plus 2003 champ and 2013 runner-up Matt Kenseth, as well as several others.
This slideshow breaks down which drivers desperately need a win, as the series holds its All-Star Race this Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is followed by the Coca-Cola 600 at the same track eight days later.
10. Jamie McMurray
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Talladega Superspeedway, Oct. 13, 2013 (15 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Sixth at Fontana.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Jamie McMurray has yet to make a Chase in his 13-year Cup career, but under the new Chase qualifying rules set in place by NASCAR for this season, he has his best chance ever to check that box on his racing resume.
He'll soon celebrate his 38th birthday, so he needs to take advantage. If he doesn't, you have to wonder how much longer car owner Chip Ganassi, who has been his biggest booster, will keep him around in the No. 1 Chevy. Keep in mind that one of the car's primary sponsors is deep-pocketed McDonald's—and they ain't lovin' it that McMurray has been to Victory Lane only once in the last four-plus years, stretching across a total of 124 starts.
9. Danica Patrick
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Never (at least not in the Cup). Her one and only victory during a seven-year career in the IndyCar Series came at Motegi, Japan, on April 20, 2008.
Best 2014 Finish: Seventh at Kansas Speedway.
Why She Needs to Win ASAP: Now is the time for Danica Patrick to build on her career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas. If she takes another 46 starts in between top-10 finishes, as she did after notching her first and only other career top 10 by finishing eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500, her critics will be able to say they were right and she never belonged in Sprint Cup. If she can claim a historic victory, however, she would nail down her rightful place as the greatest female racer of all time—and make a whole lot of folks eat their words.
8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Never (at least not in the Cup Series). The two-time Nationwide Series champ does own eight victories on NASCAR's junior circuit, the last coming at Kansas on October 20, 2012.
Best 2014 Finish: Second at Bristol.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Can you imagine what life will be like for Stenhouse if his girlfriend, who happens to be Patrick, gets to Victory Lane in the Cup Series before he does? That could be the trump card in arguments for years to come. The fact is that Stenhouse, who is 26, is in only his second Cup season—same as Patrick. But as a two-time Nationwide champ and a driver for Roush Fenway Racing, he expected to be winning races by now. Car owner Jack Roush likely expected it too.
Stenhouse does have three top-10 finishes this season, including the second at Bristol, but he's barely holding on ahead of Patrick at 25th in the points standings.
7. Ryan Newman
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 28, 2013 (27 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Seventh, at both Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Newman is suddenly the standard-bearer for Richard Childress Racing, just 11 races into his first season at RCR. Much of that has to do with the underperforming seasons from promising rookie Austin Dillon and veteran Paul Menard, the company's other two drivers. But Newman, who has won precisely one race in each of the last four seasons and five total in the last six, needs a win to put a stamp on his new leadership role and also punch his ticket into the Chase. At this point, he appears to be RCR's best hope for accomplishing both goals.
6. Clint Bowyer
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 13, 2012 (53 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Third at Talladega.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Let's face it: Clint Bowyer has struggled since being the central figure involved in Spingate at Richmond International Raceway last spring. To put it completely behind him, he needs to win a race or two and establish himself as a bona fide championship contender. So far this season, he hasn't looked much like one, leading more than five laps in only one race and failing to lead a single lap at all in six of the first 11 races, including the last four.
5. Greg Biffle
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Michigan International Speedway on June 16, 2013 (32 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Second at Talladega.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: With three finishes inside the top six over the last six races, including his second after leading a race-high 58 laps at Talladega, Greg Biffle seems to be inching closer to his first trip to Victory Lane in 2014. Carl Edwards, the other high-profile driver for Roush Fenway Racing—who, like Biffle, is in a contract year—has already won a race to virtually assure his entry into the Chase. Biffle needs to follow suit—for himself, for the No. 16 Ford team and for the RFR organization that has struggled to find consistent speed in its race cars the last couple of years.
4. Kasey Kahne
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Pocono Raceway on August 4, 2013 (26 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Third at Kansas.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Kasey Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis seem to be somewhat slow starters, often winning races in the latter half of the year. They have to hope that is the case again this year. If you drive for Hendrick Motorsports and you aren't winning races, you are failing. Now that Jeff Gordon has won a race to back up the season-opening victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500, Kahne and Johnson are the winless pair in the Hendrick complex. That doesn't sit well with anyone and isn't likely to stay that way for much longer.
3. Tony Stewart
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Dover International Speedway on June 2, 2013 (34 races ago overall, but only 19 starts ago for Stewart, who missed the last 15 races of 2013 because of an injury).
Best 2014 Finish: Fourth at Bristol.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Tony Stewart doesn't like to talk about the broken leg he suffered last August, or whether he perhaps tried to come back too quickly from it. The fact that he scored a fourth-place finish at Bristol and then placed fifth the following week at Fontana early in the season would indicate that he's fine.
But he uncharacteristically finished 20th or worse in five of the first 11 races, including the last three, and faces the added pressure as a driver-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing of satisfying sponsors who expect a whole lot more, plus the more-than-occasional trip to Victory Lane. He hasn't reached Victory Lane since the injury and won't silence the whispers about his health until he does.
2. Matt Kenseth
Last Visit to Victory Lane: New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 22, 2013 (19 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Fourth at both Fontana and Darlington.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: After winning a career-high seven races and leading a career-high 1,783 laps (651 more than in any other season in his 17-year Cup career), what has transpired thus far this year for Matt Kenseth constitutes a slow start. By this point in 2013, he already had won three races and led 781 laps. This year, he has yet to win and has led a total of 271 laps over the first 11 races, with 165 of those coming in one race (at Bristol, where he started third but faded to 13th by the finish).
Many believe that both he and Johnson are off the pace at the beginning of this year because their teams had to put so much into the championship fight to the finish a year ago. There likely is more than a little truth to that theory. A win would go a long way toward putting last year completely in the rearview mirror and having the team focus on another possible run at a title.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Last Visit to Victory Lane: Texas Motor Speedway on November 3, 2013 (13 races ago).
Best 2014 Finish: Second at Martinsville.
Why He Needs to Win ASAP: Like Kenseth, it appears the No. 48 Chevrolet team of Johnson put so much effort into last year's attempt to win a sixth title that it hurt preparations for 2014 and the run at what would be a record-tying seventh championship. That's fine, especially when you come out on the winning end of that struggle, as Johnson's team did against Kenseth's. But now it's time to turn the page and move on this season.
In addition to finishing second at Martinsville, Johnson also finished third at Darlington and fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500. He has led a total of 527 laps this season, second only to two-time race winner Kevin Harvick's total of 678. So he is close to getting back to Victory Lane, and there is no better place for him to do it than at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which has been one of Johnson's favorite and most prolific track.
A win in the upcoming Coca-Cola 600 would send a message to his fellow Sprint Cup competitors that he'll be defending his title vigorously in the upcoming Chase, so they had all better step up their games. You know he will, but first he needs win No. 1 of 2014.
Unless otherwise noted, information for all slides was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Joe Menzer has covered NASCAR for years and has written two books about it. He now writes about it and other sports, including the Olympics, college basketball and golf, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.