There’s nothing wrong with Elliott Sadler’s season this year.
Not that you might have been thinking that, but if you’ve been following the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2017, perhaps you let the idea slip into your mind at some point. Despite being the regular season champion, he’s been one of the odd men out at JR Motorsports when it comes to Victory Lane this year, teammates Justin Allgaier and William Byron combining for five series wins without him.
Sadler remains third in points entering the first playoffs cutoff this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway and seems like a fair choice to make it all the way to the final round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, even though the wins haven’t been coming. He’s the latest in a line of NASCAR drivers who have, rather than won their way into the hearts of championship forecasters, simply top-fived them to death.
Which is something you don’t hear about as much anymore in the NASCAR of today. With the win-and-you’re-in format that permeates not just the lead-up to the playoffs but also the rounds within them, mere consistency often falls by the wayside in terms of a so-called interesting story until that driver is standing with a chance to win the series title at Homestead. It flies directly in the face of a NASCAR administration that’s tried — and mostly succeeded — in getting wins to mean more than ever before, not so much a loophole as a black sheep scenario.
With the presence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars slightly diminished over the final weeks of the XFINITY season due to the rules barring full-time Cup drivers with more than five years of experience from the field (even though younger competitors like Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones remain in the starting lineup and tough to beat), Sadler’s chances of tasting victory before 2017 ends are likelier than ever. But if he doesn’t win a race, he has a good shot of being in some hefty company. Entering Charlotte, he has 11 top fives on the season, the most of any driver in the series, full- or part-time. And if he ends up with an egg in the win column, he could end up on one of the following lists.
That is, the top five drivers in each of the three NASCAR national series (Cup, XFINITY and the Camping World Truck Series) with the most top fives without a win in series history.
Camping World Truck Series — Most Top Fives in a Season Without a Win
Jason Leffler (11, 2002)
Rick Crawford (11, 2007)
Matt Crafton (11, 2009)
Daniel Hemric (11, 2016)
Stacy Compton (12, 1999)
Rick Crawford (12, 2002)
It’s not too shocking to see Matt Crafton here, since he was well-known for strong Truck seasons many seasons of his career sans actual victories (trips to Victory Lane are… more of a recent development). Daniel Hemric, the most recent appearance, is a little more so, given that the series has less races in 2017 than it did during many of the represented seasons. His current XFINITY season seems to indicate that this could be a continuing trend for the driver throughout his career.
For the record, Grant Enfinger is the closest in 2017 to this group, with eight top fives entering Talladega Superspeedway next weekend. Which he won last year.
XFINITY Series — Most Top Fives in a Season Without a Win
Elliott Sadler (12, 2011)
Ty Dillon (12, 2015)
Brian Vickers (13, 2013)
Austin Dillon (13, 2013)
Justin Allgaier (13, 2016)
Dale Jarrett (17, 1983)
That most of these occurred this decade shouldn’t be too surprising; after all, as Cup dominance has become more prevalent in the series, strong full-time efforts are far more likely to conclude without a trip to Victory Lane. And as evidenced here, Sadler’s been in his 2017 form before, scoring 12 top fives without a win in 2011 (a stat he’s likely to exceed if he ends up winless this year). Teammate Allgaier fared about the same last year, too.
Dale Jarrett’s record 17 top fives in 1983 ends up all the more a lone wolf, then. Not only was that number fairly sizable, but it also came at a time when winless drivers in the series rarely broke double digits in the top five category. Sure enough, his subsequent two seasons in the series — also winless — came with nine top fives each. Sadler could continue to climb this ranking in 2017, but with five races left, he’s not touching Jarrett’s mark.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — Most Top Fives in a Season Without a Win (Modern Era)
Dave Marcis (14, 1978)
Ricky Rudd (14, 1981)
Mark Martin (14, 1996)
Bobby Allison (15, 1976)
Terry Labonte (17, 1982)
It’s fitting to see Mark Martin here, given his Mr. Consistency nickname. Ricky Rudd would be here a few more times, too, if we expanded past the top five, snagging 12 top fives in a winless 2000 campaign. And then there’s Terry Labonte, whose 17-top-five 1982 season prefaced the 1984 series title that saw him win twice and score, yet again, 17 top fives.