Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: The Best at Each Cup Track (Without a Win)

Last week, this space covered the NASCAR drivers who’ve won at the most tracks on the national series schedules. It was a largely Kyle Busch-dominated affair — and with good reason; after all, he’s won at all tracks the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has competed on to date, with the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval the only place he still needs to conquer once the series makes its maiden appearance there this fall.

It raised one question, though, one that is decidedly Kyle Busch-less: how about the best of the best without a win?

This isn’t meant to mean Chase Elliott in an overarching sense, per se, though you’ll see him plenty below. We’re talking the best at each track among both active and inactive drivers who either never won or never have won at a track. The competitors who have come close over the years to no avail. The newcomers who are sure to triumph soon. The leftovers who are simply among the few that haven’t won.

This edition’s ground rules: a driver must have started at least five races at the track in Cup competition to be eligible (sorry, Erik Jones and others!). Drivers are then ranked by their average finish at each track.

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Matt Kenseth
Best (Inactive): Bob Welborn

In a Cup career dating back 20 years, Matt Kenseth has 29 starts at Atlanta and an 11.9 average finish. Surely he’s won a race in that span, right? Somehow, no. Despite 11 top fives and 17 top 10s, his best finish is second twice, coming in 2010 and 2014. He does, however, have wins in the XFINITY Series at the track in 2004 and 2008.

Nine-time Cup winner Bob Welborn started seven races at Atlanta between 1960-1963, scoring a 10.3 average finish and a best result of second (to Fred Lorenzen) in 1961.

Auto Club Speedway

Best (Active): Clint Bowyer
Best (Inactive): Brian Vickers

Clint Bowyer has a 13.5 average finish at Auto Club in 18 races, fifth best among active drivers. A win, however, has eluded him, despite three top fives and eight top 10s. The closest he came to rectifying that in recent memory was a third-place result last year.

We’ll assume Brian Vickers is no longer racing for the purpose of this article, even though he’s still around the sport to some extent. In 16 starts, he scored a top five and six top 10s.

Bristol Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Best (Inactive): Joe Millikan

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: great plate racer, but a solid short-track guy, too. Through 11 races at Bristol, he’s got an average finish of 10.2 thanks to four top fives and six top 10s. If you need a sleeper pick at Bristol this August, he’s your guy, even though he’s barely a sleeper since his results have been just that good. This year, he already has a fourth-place finish at the track.

In six Bristol races in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Joe Millikan earned an 11.2 average finish on the strength of three straight top 10s to start his career there. He ended his 79-race Cup career with 10 top fives, 38 top 10s and no wins.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Denny Hamlin
Best (Inactive): Rex White

There aren’t too many tracks on the Cup schedule that haven’t featured a Denny Hamlin victory yet, but Charlotte is one of them — a surprise since he’s been quite good there over the years, including winning the All-Star Race there in 2015. But in terms of non-exhibition races, Hamlin has nine top fives and 17 top 10s amid 26 starts. His last three races at the track? Fifth, fourth and third. Perhaps there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Rex White possesses the top average finish of any Cup driver who’s run more than two races at Charlotte. The 1960 champion, in 10 starts, finished ninth on average with four top fives and seven top 10s. Despite that? No win.

Chicagoland Speedway

Best (Active): Jimmie Johnson
Best (Inactive): Brian Vickers

Chicagoland Speedway: one of the few tracks, after all this time, to still have Jimmie Johnson‘s number. Among drivers with more than five starts at the track, only Brad Keselowski‘s ever been better, but Keselowski has two wins in nine Chicagoland starts to Johnson’s 0-for-16 stat. His average finish is currently a 9.4 (.2 below Keselowski), with seven top fives and 11 top 10s — among those, three runner-up finishes. His only career XFINITY Series win to date, however, came at the track in 2001.

In eight starts, Vickers earned a 14.9 average finish, scoring a top five and three top 10s, his best coming with a fourth-place result in 2005 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

Darlington Raceway

Best (Active): Ryan Newman
Best (Inactive): Marvin Panch

One pole, seven top fives and 13 top 10s, but no wins for Ryan Newman at Darlington, a track that’s been about as kind to him over the years as one can be without opening up Victory Lane’s gates to a driver.

Marvin Panch had a staggering eight top fives in 18 starts at Darlington, including two second-place finishes and three in third, but no wins between 1953-1966.

Daytona International Speedway

Best (Active): Clint Bowyer
Best (Inactive): Richard Brickhouse

Bowyer has quite a few drivers ahead of him in average finishes at Daytona; his 15.8 average, while commendable, doesn’t come close to, say, Darel Dieringer’s 8.5 or Lorenzen’s 9.3 (or even, among active drivers, Austin Dillon‘s 13.8). That being said, 15.8 at a track as volatile as Daytona is a tall task, and four top fives and 12 top 10s in 25 starts isn’t bad, either. And he’s visited Victory Lane there, too, thanks to a 2009 XFINITY triumph.

Not just a one-time winner at Talladega Superspeedway, Richard Brickhouse was a longtime contender at Daytona, earning one top five and four top 10s in six starts in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Dover International Speedway

Best (Active): Chase Elliott
Best (Inactive): Bobby Isaac

Unlike some tracks on this list, Chase Elliott is eligible for Dover due to five starts at the track in his still-young Cup career. If there’s one track where he might get his maiden Cup victory, keep an eye on him when he returns to Dover later this year, if he hasn’t won before then. Last month’s 12th-place run at Dover was the first time Elliott has finished outside the top five.

Bobby Isaac’s five Dover starts in the early ’70s possess some impressive stats that include two poles, two top fives and three top 10s for an 11.2 average finish, but the 1970 champion was never able to seal the deal in Delaware.

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Best (Active): Kyle Larson
Best (Inactive): Mark Martin

Should Kyle Larson make it to Homestead this year as part of the Championship 4, look for him to be a knockout contender for the win (and, subsequently, the title). In five starts, Larson has three top fives and three top 10s, all coming in the past three races at the track.

In 14 career Cup starts at Homestead, Mark Martin found the top five four times and landed a 13.9 average finish, including a runner-up run in 2005.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Joey Logano
Best (Inactive): Rusty Wallace

The last five races at Indy have Joey Logano finishing eighth, fifth, second, seventh and fourth. He’s always part of the conversation at the once-a-year track, and his 11.7 average finish in nine starts is commendable, particularly since joining Team Penske.

Before retirement, Rusty Wallace ran 12 Brickyard 400s, finishing in the top 10 nine times. He came the closest to victory in 2000, leading 110 laps but losing the lead (and eventual win) to Bobby Labonte with 15 to go.

ISM Raceway

Best (Active): Chase Elliott
Best (Inactive): Darrell Waltrip

If Elliott doesn’t shake the monkey off his back at Dover, perhaps Phoenix will be the place. In five starts, the Hendrick driver has two top fives, four top 10s and a worst finish of 12th — and that was a year where he still led over 100 laps. Were it not for Kevin Harvick‘s extreme dominance there the last few years, perhaps Elliott would be mentioned more as a contender.

Waltrip ended his career with a 14.8 average finish at the track that was pulled down by three results outside the top 25 in his last three appearances. From 1989-1994, he never finished outside the top 10 and finished second to Davey Allison in 1991.

Kansas Speedway

Best (Active): Kasey Kahne
Best (Inactive): Rusty Wallace

Three poles, five top fives and nine top 10s are what Kasey Kahne has to show for his career at Kansas thus far, formidable results that help him to an average finish of 13.9. If nothing else, he’ll always have an XFINITY win at the track in 2005.

Kansas joined the schedule toward the tail end of Wallace’s Cup career, but he still managed five starts at the track before retirement. He currently has the best average finish by any driver with more than one Kansas start: 8.2.

Kentucky Speedway

Best (Active): Kevin Harvick
Best (Inactive): Jeff Gordon

After Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick is next best among drivers with at least one win at the most tracks on the Cup schedule. Kentucky, however, remains one of his white whales, and he actually doesn’t even have a top five at the track, either. But he’s still been marginally fast, scoring five top 10s (and an average finish of 10th) in seven starts, not to mention a triumph in the XFINITY Series’ inaugural race at the speedway in 2001.

While it’s tough to use the inactive stat for Kentucky since the track is still relatively new to the Cup schedule, Jeff Gordon was able to fit five starts in at the track before retirement, finishing in the top 10 each time for a 7.2 average finish.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Joey Logano
Best (Inactive): Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Logano’s 9.7 average finish at Las Vegas is bested by only three drivers, and none of them (Dale Earnhardt, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Ryan Blaney) have run more than four Cup races at the circuit. In 10 starts, he has three top fives and six top 10s, and he scored his first track victory last year in the XFINITY Series.

In 18 Vegas starts, despite no wins, the newly retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top five four times and earned 10 top 10s, leading 287 laps along the way — an amount that puts him sixth on the all-time laps-led list.

Martinsville Speedway

Best (Active): Joey Logano
Best (Inactive): Dick Hutcherson

Two in a row for Logano, who after 19 starts has still not found Victory Lane on the Cup level at Martinsville (he has one Camping World Truck Series win there in 2015). All told, entering his 20th Cup start at Martinsville this fall, Logano has four poles, five top fives and eight top 10s, including three poles in a row in 2015 and 2016.

Dick Hutcherson never won at Martinsville despite rattling off a 3.8 average finish in five starts. Blame the following: Lorenzen, Junior Johnson, Lorenzen again, Richard Petty and, finally, Petty again. The last one likely stung the most, as Hutcherson finished second.

Michigan International Speedway

Best (Active): Chase Elliott
Best (Inactive): LeeRoy Yarbrough

OK, yeah, this article isn’t all Chase Elliott all the time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t pop up quite a few times, either. In five starts at Michigan, Elliott now has an average finish of 4.6 thanks to three top fives and five top 10s, including three straight runner-up finishes to kick off his Cup career. Maybe this summer’s the charm?

He started four races for Junior Johnson’s team and a fifth for Bill Seifert, scoring two top fives in the process, but LeeRoy Yarbrough never quite figured out Michigan to the point where he saw the checkered flag first.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Kyle Larson
Best (Inactive): Dale Earnhardt

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a track that should, in theory, be quite suited to Larson’s driving style, and while he hasn’t tasted victory yet, he’s come close, with four top fives and five top 10s in eight starts. Not a ton of laps led (16), though. Give him time.

The Earnhardt name is very much not synonymous with victory at Loudon. Dale Earnhardt didn’t have a terrible time at the track, though, racking up two top fives and six top 10s in 12 Cup appearances.

Pocono Raceway

Best (Active): Kyle Larson
Best (Inactive): Davey Allison

Another track that suits Larson, but he’s still come up short every time in nine starts. Most recently, he earned his first second-place finish at the track earlier this month, and he scored the inaugural XFINITY win there.

With respect to average finish at Pocono, six drivers rank ahead of Davey Allison, but each of them made only one Cup start at the track. Allison, meanwhile, had 13, earning six top fives and a 9.8 average finish. His best finish at Pocono was third in 1988 to Ken Schrader and race winner Bill Elliott.

Richmond Raceway

Best (Active): Chase Elliott
Best (Inactive): Bobby Isaac

Appearance No. 4 for Elliott, who in six Richmond starts has an average finish of 13.8. He wasn’t exactly an obvious contender at the track, however, until this year, when he finished second in the first Richmond race of the season. Keep an eye on him this fall.

Isaac scored six top fives and seven top 10s in 10 Richmond starts beginning in 1964 and ending in 1973. In 1971, he led 108 laps but finished second to Richard Petty.

Sonoma Raceway

Best (Active): Ryan Newman
Best (Inactive): Marcos Ambrose

Newman isn’t generally thought of as an elite road course racer, probably because he hasn’t won at a track like Sonoma. But he hasn’t been awful by any stretch of the imagination, earning an average finish of 12.5 entering this year’s race and finishing second to Jeff Gordon in 2006.

Always a threat at the road courses during his NASCAR tenure, Marcos Ambrose was always a favorite at Sonoma but never sealed the deal on the Cup level; he didn’t even finish second at all, scoring a third-place result in 2009 as his top finish.

Talladega Superspeedway

Best (Active): Chase Elliott
Best (Inactive): Bobby Isaac

Five starts, two top fives for Elliott, who seems apt to win a restrictor-plate race in Cup eventually. Earlier this year, he came home third.

If you weren’t aware of Isaac’s talent in the late ’60s and early ’70s in NASCAR before now, you probably are, since this is his third appearance in this article. He finished in the top five in half of his eight starts, won five straight poles at the track and finished second three races in a row, even though the win always evaded him.

Texas Motor Speedway

Best (Active): Chase Elliott
Best (Inactive): Rusty Wallace

Elliott’s 7.4 average finish through five Texas starts is the best among all drivers who’ve started a Cup race at the track. He has not, however, finished better than fourth — yet.

Wallace was a strong competitor in his 10 Texas appearances before retirement, with a 13.1 average finish. He finished fourth twice, in 1999 and 2000.

Watkins Glen International

Best (Active): Brad Keselowski
Best (Inactive): Scott Pruett

Between 2011-2013, Brad Keselowski finished second each year at Watkins Glen, losing out to Ambrose twice and Kyle Busch once. He hasn’t quite reached those heights since, but he remains a threat each year, with four top fives and five top 10s to date.

Scott Pruett’s Cup career at Watkins Glen — all five starts — came as a substitute or one-off driver for teams that needed an expert in one of their cars. He was certainly up to the task, scoring two top fives and four top 10s, nearly winning with an extra Chip Ganassi Racing ride (the No. 39) in 2003. One of the great what-could’ve-beens came in 2000, when Pruett — running the full Cup schedule in the No. 32 — failed to qualify at Watkins Glen due to rain.

About the author

Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via