Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday October 22, 2013
When Jamie McMurray won Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, it was the first time he’d tasted victory lane in 108 races, dating back just a smidgen over three years at Charlotte in 2010.
Though the finish to his winning race was deemed a bit of a bore by many — at least by Talladega standards — his victory was nonetheless popular, an “attaboy” for a driver whose wins come far less often than the sport’s elite. Sure, the victory was McMurray’s seventh in his Sprint Cup career, a number for which many drivers would kill, but three years without a win isn’t something certain drivers would wish even on their bitterest of rivals.
His win ended the 12th-longest winless streak in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series by any driver who’s had at least one start in 2013, as well as the eighth-longest by competitors who still race on either a full-time or most-of-the-time basis.
And best of all, it gives hope to others with similar streaks, particularly those who still run — or attempt to run — every race in a season.
That’s just the superspeedways for you. It doesn’t matter who you are or what kind of experience you have coming in; as long as your car has the appropriate amount of speed and can suck up to others in the draft, and as long as you’re able to stick around and position yourself toward the front by race’s end, anyone has a shot. Restrictor plates know not of a driver’s winning — or otherwise — reputation.
Take Jeff Burton, for instance. The Richard Childress Racing driver’s losing streak exceeds the number McMurray’s had reached by over two seasons, currently sitting at 181. He still has the occasional strong run, but he’s hardly considered a major contender before any race. And yet there was Burton, leading four laps during Sunday’s race, pacing the field soundly before getting shuffled back.
When one looks at the drivers with the longest losing streaks in the Sprint Cup Series, a track like Daytona or Talladega could conceivably the only track at which they have the chance to break the mold. Many run for smaller, lower-budget organizations that tend to run mid-pack or lower most days, with the restrictor plate races the exception — case in point, Front Row Motorsports just about every such race, including the two Talladega races in 2013, during which David Ragan has a win and a sixth, while David Gilliland adds a runner-up finish and a seventh.
The crown for king of the losing streak as far as active drivers go currently resides on the head of Ken Schrader. The veteran driver hasn’t won since 1991, running 572 Cup races since. Though he hasn’t been a full-time driver since 2006, Schrader still throws out a handful of races every year, though his chances of victory dwindle considerably given his lack of a restrictor plate start since 2008.
However, the rest of the drivers whose winless streaks put them in the top five in terms of longest among active drivers still run superspeedways — in fact, three still race year-round. Bobby Labonte currently holds NASCAR’s second-longest winless streak, dating back to 2003. That’s 349 races since his last win while running the full season every year but 2013.
The others? There’s Joe Nemechek, who hasn’t tasted victory since 2004 and has run 295 races since. Then comes Germain Racing’s Casey Mears, who won his only Cup race 220 starts ago. Finally, Michael Waltrip must also return to 2003 to find his last win, having started 211 races in that time frame. All four still run the superspeedways, Waltrip in particular with strong runs there while Mears proved formidable at Talladega last weekend.
As far as other full-time drivers with long streaks, the only ones to top 100 races besides Burton are Mark Martin (129), Juan Pablo Montoya (118) and David Reutimann (110). Morgan Shepherd (188) and Terry Labonte (116) race on a fairly infrequent basis.
One might argue that the drivers mentioned have no business winning a NASCAR race from here on out and would need quite a bit of luck to do so. That may or may not be so, but if you’re looking for racers who still have some years — and better teams — to their credit, one has to look at more recent winners. We’re talking guys like Kurt Busch, who hasn’t won in 74 starts, as well as Paul Menard, who does Busch 10 better with 84 starts. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also has a considerable streak at 51, but that’s only a season plus a half of another — nothing to shake a stick at just yet.
It all comes back to the unpredictability that is a NASCAR superspeedway race. Jamie McMurray has had some good runs here and there, but a restrictor plate track was the perfect place to snap a streak — as long as he could position correctly by race’s end. Same was the case for David Ragan earlier this year, as it could be for Waltrip, Mears, Burton or a score of others in the future.
Perhaps that’s part of why Daytona and Talladega are popular among many fans. Either way, next year’s Daytona 500 can’t come soon enough.
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