The old proverb says, “To the victor, go the spoils.”
But as the Cup season hits the homestretch this weekend, there’s an All-Star cast of drivers who have yet to earn themselves a crumb.
With just one race remaining, a full one-third of the Chase field – four of 12 drivers – has yet to win a race this season. That easily sets a record, as in the past five years it’s happened to just six Chasers – combined. Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards may have a total of 62 top-10 finishes, but all their other accomplishments pale in comparison to the momentum a trip to victory lane would bring.
“It makes me hurt to think about how many we’ve come so close to,” Biffle said on Friday. “Running out of gas at Michigan, stopping on the air hose at California… there’s been about four or five. Kansas was the latest [close call] – we took four tires instead of two and the [No.] 14 beat us.”
“It’s been very difficult, but they’re not easy to win, either.”
Biffle’s got a six-year streak on the line, winning at least once every year since he’s been racing full-time in Cup. But perhaps it’s his teammate that’s poised to make a more precipitous fall. From nine wins in 2008 to none in 2009, that would be the first time that’s happened to a driver since 1965-66, when Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson won 13 only to semi-retire and post goose eggs the following season.
But of all the drivers, Edwards seems the most optimistic he’ll cash in on Sunday.
“We couldn’t come to a better racetrack [to get a win,]” says Homestead’s defending champ. “Roush Fenway does really well here. Our Fords run well.”
But with so many playoff contenders, it begs the question: do you need a win, not a Chase bid, to make a successful season? The answers vary, depending on which end of the half-filled glass drivers choose to look at.
“The thing I’m proud of this season is that once we realized and I realized that we were not the same team, and we did not have the same performance as last season, we buckled down and got the best we could out of our finishes and we made the Chase,” Edwards said. “That’s a huge accomplishment.”
For his teammate, though, a playoff appearance can only satisfy him for so long.
“Winning races is what I’m after,” Biffle said. “I wouldn’t trade winning races for being in the Chase, but at some point you do. You feel like, ‘I want to get back to victory lane.’ I won a couple of Nationwide races this year, so that was good. But we want to get to victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series.”
As for Newman and Montoya, their winless streaks extend to February 2008 and June 2007, respectively, leaving them no less disappointed but far more realistic about their seasons that have surpassed expectations.
“We have had a really good year,” Newman said. “If we’d win one race, it would be a great year in my eyes, but we have one more shot at that here in Homestead and I feel that we’ll have a competitive racecar.”
“Of course, I want to win races and everything,” Montoya added. “But the way we ran over the past few years against this year (career highs in top fives (seven) and top 10s (18), it’s been incredible. It’s been a great year.”
Of course, those four winless drivers are the tip of the iceberg in a year more notable for drivers who haven’t won. The list of those outside the Chase reads like a Who’s Who of popular names: Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton are the top three still looking for their first victory of ‘09. For Junior, it would be the second winless season in just three years, combined with a precipitous drop from 12th in points to well outside the top 20.