The Frontstretch: Drought Busters: Who's Gone The Longest Without A Trip To Victory Lane? by Danny Peters -- Tuesday June 24, 2008

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Drought Busters: Who's Gone The Longest Without A Trip To Victory Lane?

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday June 24, 2008


In the 1930s an epic drought, caused in part by primitive farming techniques, triggered a unique weather phenomenon called the Dust Bowl. It was a period of severe dust storms that blackened the sky, wreaked havoc on the land, and reduced visibility to only meters in some instances. These storms reached as far as New York and Washington, D.C. on the Eastern seaboard but centered on a five-state, 400,000 square kilometer area in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The travails of the migrant workers, who foraged from farm to farm in a desperate search for jobs, were later immortalized in John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Over the last couple of years Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered his own version of an epic drought, as NASCAR’s most famous son hadn’t won a race for more than two whole seasons. While Earnhardt finally got his win — a fuel mileage triumph at Michigan on June 15th — the streak lasted for a stretch of some 76 races, or 404 days for those so mathematically inclined. It’s fair to say the “Dale Jr. Drought” did not have the financial and societal effects of the Dust Bowl, but for those caught up in both — the workers so graphically depicted in Steinbeck’s tome and Junior Nation — it must have felt, for awhile at least, as if it was never going to end. But end both did; and surprisingly enough, in each case the world continued to revolve safely on its axis.

But with Junior’s streak in the rear-view mirror, that doesn’t mean other racers have stopped their own personal suffering; so, I decided to take a look at a few other drivers still with lengthy win droughts all their own. By way of criteria, I’m considering active drivers only with five or more Sprint Cup wins. Also, I’m calculating the length of the respective droughts based on races attempted, not total number of races per season. A good example is Bill Elliott, who’s participated in 55 Cup races since 2003 — it’s not fair to lump him in the same vein as others who’ve been driving full-time during that stretch. One final note: keep in mind that the driver’s current winless streak is in parentheses in the paragraphs below.

Ready to be surprised? I certainly was when I finished compiling the list…so, let’s begin.

I’ll start by dispensing with the wheelmen that have won Sprint Cup races in 2008 up front. This accounts for five of the drivers on my original list. The drivers, in reverse order, are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (a big fat one race), Jimmie Johnson (eight races), Carl Edwards (nine), gentleman Jeff Burton (11) and Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman (15). For the last name on the list, the win in the biggest race of them all looks suspiciously like the high point of his season; since then, the Alltel Dodge hasn’t so much as sniffed a win while Newman’s led just 52 laps. One other name I’ll get out of the way immediately, too, is Matt Kenseth (16 races); he won the final race of the 2007 season, sending off retiring crew chief Robbie Reiser in grand style at Homestead.

Next on the list is Jeff Gordon. Since winning back-to-back Chase races at Talladega and Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 2007, Gordon has gone 21 races without a trip to Victory Lane. For a prolific winner like the pilot of the No. 24, that’s a long stretch, but given that he has multiple victories every year since 1994 and given the quality of his Hendrick Motorsports equipment, you’d expect this streak to end sooner rather than later.

Greg Biffle (22 races) is not far behind Gordon and the No. 24. The Biff last won in the near-darkness at Kansas Speedway in the Chase last year — just before Gordon’s pair of checkered flags — to snap a 29-race drought since his win at Homestead on the last day of the 2006 campaign.

Kurt Busch, who really hasn’t looked like troubling the checkered flag waver all season, follows the Biff; his spell without a victory currently stands at 29 races. The 2004 champion, who has been disappointing for much of this season, really needs a victory because unless he goes on a miraculous run, he isn’t going to make the Chase — he’s currently 288 out of 12th with ten races remaining. Busch’s last win came at the second Michigan race of 2007.

Tony Stewart is one ahead of Busch, his drought now up to 30 races without a win. Stewart’s last sojourn to Victory Lane came, appropriately, at his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s about time we had another Smoke fence climb — enough with the Kyle Busch bow. And with summer always tending to be Stewart’s time of year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that happen sometime in the next few weeks.

Now, we start getting into some higher numbers. Kevin Harvick has not won a points-paying race since the 2007 Daytona 500, tallying a grand total of 51 races. Bill Elliott is a couple of ticks behind Happy Harvick, with his number at 55 races and counting. Awesome Bill from Dawsonville last took the checkers in the penultimate race under the Winston sponsorship in 2003 at Rockingham. But in the races since — most of them running a part-time schedule — his highest finish has been a ninth-place effort at Indianapolis in 2004. Can the winner of 44 career races — good enough for 14th on the all-time list — make it back to Victory Lane before he retires at the end of the season? Reluctantly, you’d have to say it’s highly unlikely. Of the thirteen drivers listed thus far, it’s fair to say that the 1987 champion — currently paired up with the struggling single-car effort at the Wood Brothers — is the first for whom another win would be a major surprise.

From one former Gillett Evernham driver to another: Jeremy Mayfield’s 60-race winless streak dates back to the August race date at Michigan in 2005. Like Elliott, Mayfield is extremely unlikely to nab another win after leaving GEM. And no matter what happens, this much is for certain: he certainly can’t get one while out of a ride.

In fifth place on the winless streak list is the man every true NASCAR fan would like to see win one more time at the Cup Level. Mark Anthony Martin of Batesville, Ark., is now at 0 for 79 since winning the Kansas race in 2005. He’s predicted, in very un-Martin-like fashion, that he’ll win the Brickyard this season: let’s hope his dream comes true, no matter what his future holds.

After Martin is Terry Labonte, who squeaks back onto this list since he’s currently assuming driving duties in Kyle Petty’s No. 45 Dodge. The 1984 champ has run just six races since “retiring” at Texas in 2006, but he’s started 83 since his last victory, which came at Darlington in the last ever (for now) Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend.

Next up in third is Bobby Labonte. The Texas native’s winless streak stands at 160 races, with his last win coming a week after Bill Elliott’s. Labonte won the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November of 2003 while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Now that he’s re-upped with Petty Enterprises, it remains to be seen if a new investment partner, Boston Ventures, injects the necessary resources to make Labonte a challenger once again. One also wonders if the fourth car at Richard Childress Racing might not have been the better bet. Of course, only time will tell — but as popular as a Mark Martin win would be, it’s fair to say the No. 43 making a return trip to Victory Lane is a sight no true fan would be disappointed to see.

Kyle Petty can’t be happy both he and current Petty Enterprises employees Terry and Bobby Labonte make up three of the Top 5 drivers leading the winless drought in the Cup Series today.

Sterling Marlin, who has not run a full season since 2006 — he has 25 total starts over the last two years — is second on this infamous list at 0 for 192 and counting. Like Terry Labonte, Marlin’s final win also came at Darlington; however, he won the March edition at the track Too Tough To Tame in 2002. Currently driving a limited schedule for James Finch in the No. 09, Marlin has no plans to return to full-time driving and will likely see his winless streak ride off into the sunset with him.

Last but not least, we have Mr. Kyle Petty coming in atop the active winless list. With his 36th-place finish in the Coke 600 at Charlotte — which was his 824th race in NASCAR’s highest echelon — Petty’s winless era stands at an eye-opening 400. Currently found behind a microphone in the TNT broadcast booth, there can be little doubt that a win for the popular veteran, once he resumes driving duties, would be one of the most celebrated and unexpected events in NASCAR. But while for the time being it doesn’t look promising for Petty, the injection of capital from Boston Ventures could cause things to turn around.

After all, stranger things have happened…

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Carl D.
06/24/2008 09:24 AM

Uh… Michael Waltrip? His last win was in the second Talledega race of 2003. I know he missed a bunch of races last season, but I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t won a race in at least his last 130 attempts.

06/24/2008 09:41 AM

Michael Waltrip is indeed in a long drought – 142 races to be precise. However, since he’s only won 4 races I decided not to include him – I limited the list to 5 wins or more. Schrader, Nemechek, Hamlin and Morgan Shepherd(!) also fell in the active/4 win category.

06/24/2008 02:11 PM

Hey where are the bashers for Mark Martin? His losing streak is about what Jr’s was. Sure he has had tons of wins but that is history. What is he doing now? Why isn’t he the savior of DEI and bringing that organization to the top like they thought he would. Now he is ready to jump ship also. Must be the cars fault. HA HA maybe Jr was on to something since The all Mightly Mark can’t win in it either. Apparently DEI isn’t willing to keep him either as they want Aric in the car full time and yet they are talking of going down to 3 cars next season. Wouldn’t any team in their right mind want to hold on to Mark? Rumor is that Mark wants one last shot at a championship. Why would he even try now that he is one a big time losing streak? Mark is to wishy washy for me. He “retires” from one of the best teams in Nascar to spend time with his son (see how much the kid means to him now). Then he comes back part time and now wants full time. First he tells his family he wants to spend more time with them and now he wants to get way from them again. Hope they have a shrink on call for his son as now he will wonder what he did to make his dad want to get away from them again. Yes I know he has every right to do whatever he wants and I am sure he sat down with his son and explained it all to him but you can’t tell me that his son’s feelings won’t be hurt anyway and who’s wouldn’t? Well at least they can buy the boy anything he wants and that will make up for it.

Does anyone think Kyle Petty would have had a ride for as long as he has if HIS name was Kyle Smith? I hated to say that because Kyle is a great guy and does SOOOO much good for the kids.

06/24/2008 02:45 PM

“Tony Stewart is one ahead of Busch, his drought now up to 30 races without a win. Stewart’s last sojourn to Victory Lane came, appropriately, at his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway”

Didn’t he win at Watkins Glen as his last win? Not Indy?

06/24/2008 05:04 PM

Wow Connie!
I feel like I should go kill myself for being a Mark Martin Fan.

Kevin in SoCal
06/24/2008 08:08 PM

Mark Martin earned his fans thru hard work and wins, having helped build Roush Racing’s NASCAR effort. Dale Jr was practically handed his fans thru his father’s efforts. That’s the difference Connie.

Buster Chandler
06/24/2008 08:32 PM

I gotta disagree with you there Kev. I’m not going to say I’m a Jr fan, because, well, frankly, I don’t want to be associated with all those whackjob psychopaths, (Thank you for proving my point Connie, and yes Jr Fan, I am better than you, you weren’t just imagining it. If you see me at the track, keep walking, I don’t want to talk) but I do have a lot of respect for the man, something I couldn’t always say about his father.

06/24/2008 08:50 PM

The title of your story is Who has gone the longest without a trip to victory lane?….

HOW DARE YOU leave out Michael Waltrip? With 705 starts, & 4 count em, 4 victories. He’s the KING. He’s built a well deserved record. That just like the other King’s will never be equaled, or even seriously challenged. Let’s give credit, where credit is due. When it comes to losing, no one even comes close. One might say, “when it comes to losing, he’s the Energizer Bunny.”

06/25/2008 12:17 PM

Funny how the Jr bashers are so quick to be all warm and fuzzy about Mark and to stand up for a man who publicly tells his son he wants to spend more time with him and then decides not to. I at least I feel sorry for the boy. I have a heart something Buster doesn’t have and who is the better person? That was a cruel thing to do to a child. If you think it is easy on a boy to have a part time dad you are so wrong. Then your dad tells you and the Nascar world you are retiring to spend time with you. His son had to have been excited. Then BAM dad changed his mind. And believe me kids can be cruel, esp. jealous ones. Maybe the racing gods have given Mark his just reward with his 0 for 79 record.

I had a wonderful dad who was there every step of the way for me. Something Nascar drivers can’t say.

And for the record I did not become a Jr fan because of his dad. And for those who think Jr has not worked hard your crazy. ALL Drivers have to work hard!!! Testing, practicing, public apperances and whatever else the sponsors want. Then throw in the fans who think they own you and don’t give you moments peace. They have to go around a good part of the time with security because fans mob them. They do it because they love racing (and probably the money also).

06/26/2008 03:58 PM

For the record Mark wasn’t going to fully retire. He was supposed to drive a truck full-time (the season being shorter than Cup) and the ride never materialized as promised, so he does a partial cup schedule with about the same number of races as the trucks. I don’t understand how that’s a slap in the face to his son. Yes it’s hard having a father who’s a driver but get your stories straight

06/26/2008 08:26 PM

Hey Connie I invite you to the Mark Martin Fan Days next Easter. You can address your issues directly to Mark and Matt they are easily accessible. Maybe they can help you out with your issues.

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