NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: The Depth of Jimmie Johnson’s Winless Drought

Did You Notice? … Jimmie Johnson’s winless drought is now at 79 races? The 83-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner and seven-time series champion has never had a slump like this before. A driver who won at least two Cup races every year since 2002 has gone winless since June 2017.

To make matters worse, Johnson now sits on the outside of the playoffs looking in. A water pump and power steering failure ruined his Sunday (July 21) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leaving him 30th, 12 laps off the pace. He’s now 17 points behind Clint Bowyer in 16th and may need a victory in order to qualify for the 2019 postseason.

But getting that win may not be so easy when we look back at history. I looked back at the sport’s 10 winningest drivers to see if they ever had a drought which lasted this long. The answers I got left me uneasy about Johnson’s ability to recover.

NASCAR’S ALL-TIME WIN LEADERS

Richard Petty (200 wins): Petty holds one of many NASCAR records by going 18 straight years with a victory (1959-1977). From 1959-1984, he never went more than 44 races without a win.

But when that final victory came for Petty, number 200 at July 4, 1984 at Daytona, few would have believed how quickly the dropoff came. The King aged quickly, earning just 16 more top-five finishes in his final eight years driving full-time. The magic simply never came back; he fell into a winless drought for the final 241 starts of his career. 

David Pearson (105 wins): Pearson had a 61-race victory drought early in his career. But once the wins started coming, he earned at least one per season from 1964-1980. After earning that 105th and final trophy in Darlington, though in the 1980 CRC Chemicals Rebel 500? Pearson went six years and 55 races without a win. He finally hung it up for good following a failed comeback effort in 1989.

Jeff Gordon (93 wins): Gordon won in his 42nd career Cup Series start, the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After that, it took nearly 15 years for him to have a drought that lengthy, going 47 starts without a win from 2007-2009. A longer drought of 66 races followed, from 2009-2011. But Gordon never approached the level of slump Johnson is going through right now. And even with that 66-race slump, Gordon earned just 11 victories after that during the final five years of his career. It’s a far lower output from somebody that tied the modern-era NASCAR record with 13 race wins in a season back in 1998.

Darrell Waltrip (84 wins): Waltrip is Petty, part II. He won in his 50th career start and then went 15 straight years in the Cup Series with at least one victory (1975-1989). No other drought came close to his 0-for-50 beginning in Cup… and then, suddenly, Waltrip started falling off a cliff.

His final race win was in the 1992 Southern 500, a rain-shortened gamble on fuel mileage that kept Davey Allison from taking the Winston Million. Waltrip raced eight more years after that, in a variety of situations but never reached victory lane again. A whopping 0-for-251 finish to his Cup career tarnished a track record that’s still one of the best in NASCAR history.

Bobby Allison (84 wins): Allison’s career is harder to judge because it got cut short. Head injuries suffered in a scary Pocono wreck back in the summer of 1988 sidelined him for good just months after winning the Daytona 500. But in 28 years of competing in the Cup Series, Allison never had a drought that matched Johnson’s 79 races. The closest he came was 67 races without a victory, a clunker that included two winless seasons in 1976 and 1977. But Allison was struggling with poor equipment at the time, driving the outclassed AMC Matador for Roger Penske in ’76 before switching to his own team. He didn’t get it back together until pairing up with legendary car owner Bud Moore in 1978.

Cale Yarborough (83 wins): Yarborough won in his 78th career start, his initial drought coming awfully close to what Johnson is going through now. But in what’s becoming a familiar pattern… once Yarborough won, he didn’t stop until his skills were debilitating to the point of retirement. He went the final 44 races of his career (three years) in part-time rides without a victory, marking his longest droughts at the beginning and end of an incredible three decades of NASCAR competition.

Dale Earnhardt (76 wins): Earnhardt’s another one who’s tough to judge because his career ended in tragedy, turn 3 of the last lap in the 2001 Daytona 500. But up to that point, Earnhardt has never had a winless streak longer than 59 races. He’d gone through just one full-time winless season in his career (1997) and was second in the championship the year before he died.

Kyle Busch (55 wins): Exempt cause he’s still active.

Rusty Wallace (55 wins): Finally! Someone who had a winless streak longer than Johnson has now and actually recovered to reach victory lane. Wallace was 0-for-105 from mid-2001 to the spring of 2004, finally breaking through with a 55th career victory at Martinsville Speedway.

And then? That was all she wrote. Wallace was retired by the end of the following year, making the Chase for the Championship but never becoming a serious factor in the title chase. It was a drought from which he never fully recovered.

So there you have it. The running theme here is clear – and scary for Johnson. Few of these drivers ever really had a slump as long as he’s going through now unless they were on the clear downside of their career. And when they did? These Hall of Famers never recovered, trying helplessly to recapture past glory until they were finally convinced to hang up the helmet.

Every driver is different. Johnson is in the first year with a new crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports and remains in top physical condition. But it’s clear over the past two-plus seasons that something is suddenly missing at the No. 48. And how long will Johnson want to stick around (his contract is up in 2020) trying to chase the magic he once had? Is it easier to admit it’s no longer there and move on? In some ways, potential title aside there’s nothing left for him to prove.

It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

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Bill B

Every dog has his day.

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.

All things must pass.

To everything turn, turn, turn.

We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t… don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.

Glad the “Johnson era” is coming to an end.

DoninAjax

The “Johnson era” has a bad odour to it.

Bill B

If there is a bad odor to the Johnson era it has a much to do with the Brian France/ Chase era than anything Johnson did. While I got tired of seeing him win and feel that the chase enabled him to win some of those championships, no one can deny that he was and will be remembered as one of the greatest. The stats don’t lie and while I was never a fan, if you can’t admit that then you are deluding yourself or are so bias that you are blinded by your own hate.

DoninAjax

Yes, I was alluding to the gift titles, but I realize since watching races (real races) since 1966 that another driver in the 48 might have done better. Johnson lost me when he said “I don’t qualify that well” and that’s not good for someone who considers HIMSELF the greatest. David Pearson had more poles than wins, including 11 races in a row at Charlotte, and that counts more in my estimation.

timinchandler

Interestingly, Rusty says he regrets his decision to retire, feeling he had a lot left.

Bill B

If he had stuck around there was a greater chance that his last years would have mirrored DW’s than some miracle resurgence taking place.

janice

Greater chance of being hurt as well. Older bodies don’t rebound as quickly as young bodies.

Upstate9fan

I could stand Jimmie after he ripped that 2007 title away from Gordon and then just kept dominating. I should be enjoying this, but it’s kind of sad to see. I still think though that every all-time great gets one more moment in the sun. I think Jimmie will get his with a few more wins or one more serious run at a title.

Bill B

I think you left out a “not” in that first sentence as in; “I could NOT stand Jimmie after he….” and I agree with you 100%. Being a Gordon fan myself that 2007 chase championship really pissed me off and cemented my hatred for the already controversial chase format (which I wasn’t a big fan of from the moment it was announced).

As for your last sentence, I agree with the first part but not the second. His days of seriously running for a title are finished. As I often point out, he backed into the last one by default (K. Busch, Edwards and Logano all wrecked and Johnson should have been lapped if not for a questionable caution. And the ensuing restarts with the field bunched up directly played a part in the problems the other 3 contenders encountered.).

Paul

Maybe in 2017 when he won his last race THAT was his last moment in the sun

Dan

I think the big question over the years was just how good Johnson would have been without Chad Knaus. Would he have the Championships he does if this split would have happened 5-10 years ago. Would Johnson have been able to diagnose problems with the car if it would have been a different crew chief? I recall times back in the day when Johnson would seem to be pretty much out of a race due to some incident and at the end of the race there he was with a top 20 or better finish.Most other teams would have been in the garage. I’m not a fan of Knaus but somehow he always seem to be able to have his driver finish a race in a pretty good spot considering the circumstances. So let’s put credit where credit is due. Chad Knaus put together one heck of a team. Johnson just happen to be the guy driving for him. Makes a person wonder if another driver with some talent wouldn’t have done the same thing.

Paul

Dale Earnhardt is one driver I can name that drover for several different car owners, several different car makes, several different crew chiefs and several time periods and won for several.

Charlie

Paul, I’m a little older than you. David Pearson did that, sometimes in the same season. So did Curtis Turner and Buddy Baker. It was common in the early days. But, Dale Sr was a real driver and not a marketing creation.

Echo

Cut to the chase and tell it like it is. Jimmie has never been able to drive a lighter car, period. He couldn’t in Busch and he can’t in cup. With or without Chad in can’t drive this new lighter car. He’s already gotten his last win in cup.
Ridiculous statement saying getting X amount of poles means more in your book, who cares about poles, get real and take your pills regularly.
And I’m a in fan but just telling it like it is. Forbes said recently that Jimmie is the ONLY $10 Million a year driver now, speaking of salary only. My guess is in takes his ten million next year in his last contract year then rides into the sunset on his bike..

Kenny

It’s funny how every driver has his “feel”. Put Gordon in a car with a small rear spoiler and he was toast. It always surprised me that a guy that raced on dirt hated a loose racecar.

DoninAjax

Qualifying is part of a driver’s package. Johnson’s wins stopped when the cautions stopped helping him. And we know when that happened. Kenny nailed it on his win at Dover. Without the caution he doesn’t win.

Kenny

Ah, the problem with greatness. When you’re showing your greatness everybody resents you for it. When your greatness is in serious decline, only then do people appreciate what you’ve done.

But IF Dover was his last win, it was classic Jimmie Johnson. I was there. When I saw him drop to the rear, I told my wife that he had the race won. Pointed him out as he gained spot after spot. At the very end he was 2nd and she told me that it looked like he came up short. Then the caution came out and he took the lead on the final restart. How many times has he done that throughout his career?

Bill B

So many that it’s fishy. : )

kb

I never “Got” Jimmies greatness. Still don’t. I understood the others winning the big Cup, but not him..or all those races. I dunno, he never impressed me as a clutch driver unless something by design on purpose went his way and he drove away on clear air, assured at that time no “PIERRE DEBRIS’ hotdog wrapper or a paid goon hitting the wall to bring out a caution, the win was assuredly his! The backing up of the car against the wall was always a helpful touch. He never seemed to battle or engage, he never seemed to race anybody, and if he was raced howled at the moon. “I am Jimmie Johnson” how dare you. Yeah a big blanket of opinion, but he was a blah person, a blah driver, a snoozer and a product of the CHEBBIE/HMS/BZF school of hype and BS. My opinion.

Paul

Thought I was the only one who felt this way

Tony

Two thumbs up for this opinion, kb. Those in the media scratch their heads and wonder why Johnson isn’t revered. Your comments sum it up. There just isn’t anything to get excited about.

kb

Also, I know we were not crazy seeing Jimmie down a lap or two. Then next thing you know he is back on the lead lap up front! How did that happen, same thing for being a lap or two down, pitting being a lap or two down and presto..lead lap. No explanation, no showing the struggle, etc! It happened more times than I can count! The great mystery of the BZF Storyline Circus. And I was not the only one to marvel at his SUPERHUMAN man and machine powers!

Charlie

Rick Hendrick plead guilty to bribery. For a multi-million dollar championship, he would bribe NASCAR as well. They are trying now with technical bullitans. Let’s see what happens.

Bill B

I guess Toyota and Ford are run by idiots if they stay in a series where Chevy is buying the championship. And geez, if that’s all it took they must be really, really stupid (or maybe just really, really cheap) to not bribe NASCAR themselves.

Les Green

Sad to see all the hate for the 48 here. So guys are not a fan because he doesn’t have that brash/in-your-face attitude or won his championships by figuring out the new playoff/race rules?? Come on gentlemen. Yes Chad should get a lot of credit, but even he admits there probably wasn’t many drivers that could have put up with his way of doing things. The laid back So Cal racer and the intense high strung genius from Chicago were a perfect match for each other for 17 years. They will go down as the greatest duo in NASCAR just for winning the 5 in a row alone.

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