We’re down to crunch time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season. Already, 13 drivers are locked into the 10-race, season-ending Cup playoffs by virtue of race wins so far this season.
Three other drivers are winless, but have the most points among those who haven’t won this year. So if there are no new winners in the final two races of the Cup regular season, Chase Elliott (711 points), Matt Kenseth (703) and Jamie McMurray (700) would likely qualify for the playoffs even though they haven’t won a race in 2017.
Clint Bowyer (642) is the first driver on the outside looking in, although it’s improbable he’ll make up enough points in two races to get into the playoffs.
So which drivers are winless in 2017, but could still win one of the last two regular-season races at Darlington Raceway or Richmond International Raceway? Here are eight possibilities:
Although he’s just 19th in points, Bayne finished fifth at Michigan and seventh at Bristol last weekend. That’s the good news. The bad news is his average finish at Darlington is 37.50 (!) and it’s 18.2 at Richmond.
Richmond is Bowyer’s second-best track, statistically speaking, with an average finish there of 12.87. Darlington, on the other hand, is Bowyer’s second-worst track, at a 20.000 average finish. In the last six races of this season, Bowyer has finished seventh or better three times.
In the last nine races, McMurray hasn’t managed to finish in the top five. He has three top fives and an average finish of 15.88 at Darlington, better than his 19.17 average finish at Richmond.
In the last four races, Logano’s best result was 13th at Bristol. Logano has two Richmond Cup victories and an excellent average finish there on 12.47. At Darlington, however, Logano’s average finish is 18.38, which ranks as his third worst among the 23 tracks where Cup teams race. Although Logano is in a bit of a funk right now, he could be someone to watch, especially at Richmond.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For the millions of Junior Nation fans, Richmond is a place to look forward to. Earnhardt has three race wins there, tying him with Phoenix for the most race wins at non-restrictor-plate tracks. Earnhardt’s average finish at Richmond is 13.71, with Darlington close by at 14.00. But Earnhardt’s last top-10 finish was at Sonoma, and his Hendrick Chevrolets have not had much speed lately.
Like Erik Jones, Suarez is a Cup rookie in one of the affiliated Toyota teams. And like Jones, Suarez has never raced at Darlington. In his only Cup race at Richmond, Suarez finished a decent 12th. Suarez has four finishes of seventh or better in the last six races.
With finishes of third at Michigan and second at Bristol, Jones heads into the final two races of the Cup regular season on a hot streak. But he’s never raced a Cup car at Darlington and was 38th at Richmond in his only Cup start there.
If any driver is going to score his first win of 2017 in the next two races, the odds strongly suggest it will be one of the Toyota pilots. Kenseth has four top fives in the last six races, and he’s won once at Darlington (15.83 average finish) and twice at Richmond (16.14).