April 24, 2014 — official release — Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports photo — RICHMOND, VA — Here’s a stat that properly illustrates how weird this Jimmie Johnson/Matt Kenseth “drought” is: The last time neither won any of the first eight races, Johnson wasn’t even in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series yet.
The year was 2001. Johnson was in his second full season of NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. Kenseth was in his second full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and battling a bit of a sophomore slump. He went winless and finished outside the top 10 in the final championship standings.
Few would’ve predicted they’d combine to win seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships over the next decade and a half, or win a combined 96 races.
The point: Though an eight-race drought doesn’t constitute as a panic situation, it can certainly be categorized as bizarre. Last year at this time, they each had two wins.
But the wait likely won’t last too much longer. Though Richmond might be the place, tracks beyond this weekend may provide a slightly better opportunity.
Though Johnson has three wins at Richmond, the last was in 2008 – and he’s finished outside the top 10 in each of the last three Richmond races. Kenseth has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three Richmond races, but hasn’t won a race at the Virginia short track since 2002.
The four points races that follow – Talladega, Kansas, Charlotte and Dover? Wheelhouse City.
Kenseth’s restrictor-plate prowess has been well documented. In 2012’s four restrictor-plate races – which includes Talladega and Daytona – Kenseth won twice, averaging a finish of 2.0. And last year, Johnson became the first driver since 1982 to sweep at Daytona.
Kenseth is the defending winner of the spring Kansas races, and is tied with Johnson (and Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart) atop the track’s wins list.
Johnson shares the all-time Charlotte wins lead with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. And at Dover, Johnson owns eight wins, more than any other driver.
So, if it doesn’t happen at Richmond this Saturday night, it’ll probably happen at Talladega. Or Kansas. Or Charlotte. Or Dover.
Eighteen races remain in the regular season – plenty of time for two of the best drivers in the sport’s history to lock up their spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.