Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: The Most Successful Drivers Without a Cup Championship

Denny Hamlin took the NASCAR Cup Series checkered flag at Pocono Raceway to the boos of the crowd in an unpopular win, but it’s a win that will show up all the same in the record books.

Hamlin’s victory on Sunday (July 23) was the 50th of his Cup career and his record-breaking seventh win at The Tricky Triangle. Hamlin became the 15th driver in Cup history to cross the half century mark, and he’s now in a tie for 13th with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson on the all-time wins list.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Was Denny Hamlin’s Move Fair or Foul Toward Kyle Larson?

Hamlin tying Johnson is notable because for decades, Johnson had stood as the winningest driver without a championship. Hamlin, whose best points finish is a runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in 2010, will stand alone at the top of that list with win No. 51.

Of course, Junior Johnson competed in an era of NASCAR where drivers made a living by competing in the races that awarded the biggest payouts. In his career, Johnson never had a season where he started in more than 80% of the races. Would he have a championship if he competed full time? Perhaps, but that’s a question that will forever be left without an answer.

The All-Time Win List

Twenty-nine drivers have won at least 30 Cup races. Along with Hamlin and Junior Johnson, Mark Martin (40 wins) and Fireball Roberts (33) are the only other drivers without a championship to eclipse this mark. Martin finished second in the championship in five different seasons, while Roberts — like Johnson — competed part time for the majority of his career.

When you look at the drivers that have won at least 20 races, the number without a title jumps to 12.

T-1Denny Hamlin, Junior Johnson50
3Mark Martin40
4Fireball Roberts33
5Carl Edwards28
T-6Dale Earnhardt Jr., Fred Lorenzen26
8Jim Paschal25
9Ricky Rudd23
T-10Jeff Burton, Jack Smith21
12Speedy Thompson20

Let’s take a closer look at the top five.

Junior Johnson

Making his Cup debut at the age of 22 in 1953, Johnson made 313 starts and scored 50 wins until his final start in 1966.

The 1950s and early ’60s saw the beginning of NASCAR’s original triple crown, as the Southern 500 debuted in 1950, the Daytona 500 in 1959 and the World 600 (now known as the Coca-Cola 600) in 1960. Despite runner-up finishes in both the Southern 500 and World 600, the 1960 Daytona 500 was the only crown jewel that Johnson was able to conquer.

Johnson scored a best points finish of sixth on two occasions, first in 1955 and again in 1961. In those two seasons, he combined for 12 wins and 77 starts in 97 races.

His winningest season as a driver came in 1965, when he was victorious in 13 of the 36 races he entered, leading 3,984 laps in the process.

After retiring from racing, Johnson went on to win six Cup championships as a car owner for Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip in the 1970s and 1980s.

See also
Up to Speed: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson & the Limits of Racing Friendships

Denny Hamlin

When looking at Hamlin’s career, a championship is essentially the only box outside of the now-defunct Brickyard 400 that he hasn’t checked off. He’s won the Daytona 500 thrice, the Southern 500 thrice and the Coca-Cola 600 once along with two wins in the Bristol Motor Speedway night race.

While 2010 is his only runner-up points finish, he’s finished in the top five in points eight times and has only finished outside the top 10 in points three times through 17 full-time seasons.

Hamlin led all drivers with eight wins in 2010, and 2018 remains the only winless season of his full-time career.

The closest Hamlin has come to winning the title was in 2010 when he entered the final race as the points leader but lost out to Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin has also made the Championship 4 on four occasions (2014, 2019, 2020 and 2021), but his best result was third in ’14 and ’21.

Mark Martin

In a Cup career spanning 32 years and 882 races, Martin scored 40 wins between 1989 and 2009 along with five runner-up finishes (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2009) in points.

Martin was a model of consistency in his prime, with 11 straight top-six points finishes from 1989 to 1999. Altogether, Martin finished top five in the points standings on 13 separate occasions.

While Martin never won the Brickyard 400 or the Daytona 500, he scored two victories in the Southern 500 and one in the Coca-Cola 600. And although it wasn’t NASCAR-sanctioned, Martin scored five championships in the defunct International Race of Champions as the series’ most decorated driver.

The closest Martin got to the Cup championship came in 1990 when he lost by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt in a season-long battle, and in 2002 when he finished 38 points behind Tony Stewart. Martin also had seven wins, 22 top-five finishes and an 8.6 average finish in 1998 — a season that would’ve won a championship in most years, only to be outdone by Jeff Gordon‘s 13 wins, 26 top-five finishes and average finish of 5.7.

Fireball Roberts

In his time as a part-time driver between 1950 and 1964 in the Cup Series, Roberts had an impressive winning record, with 33 victories in only 206 starts.

His best points finish came in 1950 — the Cup Series’ second season — when he won one race and competed in nine of the 19 events.

Roberts made the biggest name for himself in the early 1960s, when he became one of the most formidable drivers on NASCAR’s largest tracks. He scored a total of seven wins at Daytona International Speedway, a number that included the 1962 Daytona 500. He also had two Southern 500s in 1958 and 1963 to go along with a runner-up finish in the 1961 World 600.

Tragically, Roberts’ career ended after a crash in the 1964 World 600. Although he survived the initial crash, he passed away from his injuries a month-and-a-half later at the age of 35.

Carl Edwards

In 445 starts spread across 13 seasons, Carl Edwards scored 28 Cup wins. While his season-by-season results were streaky with winless seasons in 2006, 2009 and 2012, Edwards was a serious championship contender on four separate occasions.

In his first full-time year in 2005, Edwards won four races and finished third in the championship, narrowly losing to winner Stewart by 35 points.

Edwards was back with a series-high nine wins in 2008, and he took Jimmie Johnson down to the final race of the ’08 season for the crown. But as every driver did in the late 2000s, Edwards fell short of Johnson by 69 points at season’s end.

The next year when Edwards was a title threat was 2011, and while he only won one race, he led the series with 19 top fives, 26 top 10s and an average finish of 9.3. That year was a battle to the bitter end with Stewart, but an average finish of 4.9 in the final 10 races was not enough to overcome Stewart’s five wins in the final 10, and Edwards lost the championship on a tiebreaker.

The final shot that Edwards had at the championship came in 2016 when he made his first Championship 4 appearance. He was the leading driver of the four for much of the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but a late caution led to a restart crash that collected Edwards and ended his bid.

And then he retired; he hasn’t made a single start since.

Edwards’ last race came when he was 37 years old. He certainly had more years of contention ahead, and his abrupt exit might be one of the biggest what-ifs in NASCAR the past decade.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Bottom line in sports my friend, Denny Hamlin has never won a cup championship. I hope he never gets that trophy. Y’all might say yeah but he won 50 races, but being the egomaniac Denny is it will always eat at him. I pray he doesn’t get it.


Mark Martin explains the penalty:


It was typical NA$CAR. It wasn’t illegal but they didn’t like it.

Listen for the dig on Childress!

Share via