While the twelve Chase contenders are now set and will begin their championship competition this weekend at New Hampshire, there are five drivers that are already starting at the back of the pack, 60 points behind top seed Denny Hamlin, thanks to their winless seasons.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon headlines this group, who unfortunately shares not being to victory lane in common with his fellow four winless competitors. Gordon is in ‘good’ company, sharing that position with the likes of Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer.
Gordon, seeded in the eighth Chase spot, has been winless even prior to this season. The original four-time champ has not seen victory lane since April of 2009 at Texas, constituting a 52-race winless streak.
Yet the fact that Gordon has not won for over year seems not to faze him one bit when it comes to being in contention for this year’s Sprint Cup.
“I’ll be fine winning the championship without winning a single race,” Gordon said. “I’ll take pride in it, absolutely. You win it however you win it, you know?”
“Do you want to win a championship that way? Not necessarily,” Gordon continued. “But you’ll take it. Do I want to win the championship without having a win? No. But I’ll still take it and take it proudly.”
Potentially even hungrier for a win is the next Chase contender, Carl Edwards, who is set to start behind Gordon in the ninth Chase position. Edwards has gone two years now without a win, with his last victory in 2008.
Edwards seemed poised for a potential win at the final race before the Chase in Richmond, scoring the pole position. Edwards just edged out Juan Pablo Montoya for that starting position, turning a quick lap of 127.726 mph as opposed to Montoya who scored a lap of 127.455.
Yet Edwards was once again unable to capitalize on his starting spot for a win. He did, however, bring his No. 99 Cheez-It/Kellogg’s Ford to the checkered flag for a top ten, finishing in the tenth position.
Edwards, like Gordon, seems undaunted by his lack of wins going into the last ten Chase races. “It’s anyone’s race more than ever this year,” Edwards said. “Over these ten races, I think it’s anybody’s Chase to win.”
“Lately though we have been building this momentum and it has been working,” Edwards continued. “I am enjoying it. The previous eight or nine races have been really good and if we can make the next races as good as the previous ones, then I think we are going to be really good.”
Following closely behind is the winless Richard Childress Racing driver and NASCAR statesman, Jeff Burton. Like Edwards, Burton has also been winless since 2008 in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.
“It certainly feels good to be in the Chase,” Burton said after finishing 13th at Richmond. “I’m proud of what Richard (Childress) did to get more prepared this year.”
“Hopefully one of us can pull it off,” Burton said of himself and his fellow RCR teammates in the Chase, including Kevin Harvick and final contender Clint Bowyer. “It would mean a great deal to give one back to him.”
Yet to Burton, there is no doubt that snagging a championship is much more important than even a race win.
“It’s been the biggest disappointment of my career not to be able to win a championship yet,” Burton said. “It wouldn’t ruin my life, but it’s the one thing out there looming that means a great deal to me to try to get it done.”
The next to the last Chase seed is Matt Kenseth, a winless Roush Fenway driver that many feel may just be the sleeper of the championship race. Unlike Edwards and Burton, however, Kenseth has a more recent win under his belt, taking the checkered flag at Auto Club Speedway in 2009.
Yet in spite of that more recent race win, Kenseth, behind the wheel of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford, has had a less than a stellar season this year. In fact, Kenseth has not led a single lap this year since the June Michigan race, leading only 35 laps all year so far, even with the new Ford engine.
“Hopefully we can start off next weekend and get a good finish – – get a good start,” Kenseth said of his Chase possibilities. “The saving grace is that everyone’s caught up and we’re 60 points out of the lead. So now we have to perform.”
The final winless Chase racer is Clint Bowyer, who maintained his twelfth and final position in the point’s standings thanks to his sixth place finish at Richmond.
“I was trying to make a statement — I wanted to win,” Bowyer said. “And I thought we had a shot at winning, but we just got behind and never could get it back. But our goal was to get in the Chase and we did it.”
Bowyer, driving his No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper RCR Chevrolet, has been winless since his Dover victory in 2008. But this final Chase driver seems to have a bit of a different perspective as he is just happy to be in the hunt.
“I’m very excited for our race team for making the Chase – very excited for RCR,” Bowyer said. “After last year, to get all three cars in the (2010) Chase after none of us being in the Chase last year feels good.”
“I’m very excited for RCR’s chances,” Bowyer continued. “I feel like this is the best shot we’ve ever had, since I’ve been there, to win a championship. I’m excited to ride the wave. To be part of the Chase is just an added bonus.”
The winless Chase contenders, as well as the other seven competitors who have won this season, will officially start their championship runs on Sunday when the Cup Series travels to Loudon, New Hampshire. The first Chase race, the Sylvania 300, will air on September 19th at 1:00 PM ET on ESPN.