|12/03/15||The Champion By NHMS Numbers|
|11/20/15||The Championship Four Preview|
|11/13/15||Phoenix: Three To Watch|
|10/30/15||Martinsville: Three To Watch|
|10/18/15||Kansas: Three To Watch|
|10/05/15||Charlotte: Three To Watch|
Easter Egg Hunting for a Win
Ok, sorry, that the title isn't 100% politically correct. Children, and adults for that matter, of any faith can certainly participate in an Egg Hunt in the spring. Let's be honest, the inner kid in us always finds that kind of a treasure hunt to be fun. However, to be fair, NASCAR takes off this weekend every year specifically in recognition of the Easter holiday, so the Easter Egg Hunt itself is applicable to the article.
The first break of the year gives drivers the opportunity to assess their season after eight races and figure out where they stand in comparison to the field. With the new Chase format, winning is the key to success. A win more or less guarantees a driver a Chase spot this postseason.
Despite that emphasis, some of the most consistent drivers have been those that have failed to find victory lane so far. Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson all sit in the top-five in the standings despite not having any wins. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick is 22nd as the only driver with multiple wins.
It's assumed that the winless drivers racing with consistency will inevitably pick up a win at some point. But, this is racing and that's not necessarily a valuable assumption. Here's a look at several of the winless drivers and their current standing on the season:
First in points
3 top-fives, 6 top-10s
Gordon leads the points because he hasn't had a single bad week. His only two finishes outside the top-10 have been 12th and 13th, and the 13th place finish came in Fontana, where he stood to win the race before a late caution.
It'd be easy to say it's not a matter of "if but when," but let's not jump to conclusions. Gordon has struggled to make the Chase in the past two seasons and his only win last year came during the Martinsville Chase race. He'll hit a patch or two of bad luck at some point and wish he had a win or two on which to fall back. He's also only led 75 laps, so he hasn't exactly been the fastest car on the track.
It's easy to sit here and say that Gordon will win a race, but he hasn't raced with enough prolonged consistency in recent years to make that a guarantee. He's won at least three races at Sonoma, Indianapolis, Pocono (which races twice in the pre-Chase schedule), and averages a finish of 10.0 or better at all three. Those four races could give him a Chase-clinching win.
Second in points
2 top-fives, 6 top-10s
This season has been more indicative to Matt Kenseth's career performance than last year when he led the series with seven wins. Prior to that, he hadn't won more than three since 2006. He's been a model of consistency without flashiness, including his 2004 championship when he only won two races.
The problem for him is that serval of his best tracks seems to be behind him. His career-best average finishes rank as such: Kentucky, Texas, Michigan, California, Las Vegas, Chicago and Bristol. Las Vegas and California have come and gone, while Texas doesn't host again until late in the Chase, and Chicago only hosts in the Chase. That leaves Kentucky, which only has a three-race sample size for success, Michigan and Bristol as his best chances to win.
Certainly that doesn't spell doomsday for a guy that won at a lot of new tracks in 2013, but he'll need to continue to place himself among the top of the standings. It's unlikely there will be 16 different pre-Chase winners, so he could be one of the top point-getters and make it in that way, even if he failed to win.
Fifth in points
3 top-fives, 5 top-10s
With 501 Laps Led, Johnson ranks second to only Kevin Harvick (515) on the season. He's led laps in six of the eight races and looked like he could have won back-to-back races in leading the most laps at both California and Martinsville. Alas, he won neither. Nor was he able sneak a late win at Darlington this past weekend.
There's little cause for concern for the No. 48. He averages a top-10 finish at 12 of the 23 current tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. He's let some of his favorites slip, like Martinsville, Phoenix, California and Darlington, all of which rank among his top-six in terms of average finish. However, he has eight wins at Dover, six at Charlotte, and three apiece at Pocono, New Hampshire and Atlanta. All in all, he has a lot of opportunities left to win.
Other treasure hunters...
While those three have raced with consistency every week and could stand a chance to get in on points alone, there are several other good drivers that have struggled and might need to find victory lane to make the Chase. Some of the the most prominent include:
Tony Stewart (13th)
Stewart led 74 laps to start the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, but fell off and settled for 10th. That's the only race in which he's led a single lap. He has the ability to turn it on suddenly at any track, but he hasn't appeared to be in the running for the win very often.
Denny Hamlin (14th)
Hamlin seemed like a comeback driver of the year candidate after suffering a back injury last spring and never to fully got comfortable in the car again. Unfortuantely, he still doesn't look comfortable. He's led laps in five of seven races, but only 44 in total. He only has two top-10s and missed a race due to a vision problem, so the comeback season hasn't been going as well as hoped.
Clint Bowyer (16th)
Things haven't been the same for Bowyer since the fiasco at Richmond leading into last year's Chase. At the time, Bowyer was second in the points. He proceeded to limp through the Chase and has started this season in similar fashion. He hasn't won since 2012, and it's looking less likely that he'll break that slump in time to qualify for this year's Chase.
Kasey Kahne (23rd)
Kahne is perhaps the opposite of Bowyer in terms of his struggles. Unlike Bowyer, whose success comes from his consistency (he only has eight wins in nine seasons), Kahne is more capable of winning races (16 in 11 seasons). However, his struggle comes from being consistent. This year, he seems to be suffering from both inconsistency and an inability to run upfront. That's a cause for concern.