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Woody: A Goose-Egg Champion? It’s A Possibility

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 22 2009
Carl Edwards could win Sprint Cup championship without doing a single back flip.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Carl Edwards could win Sprint Cup championship without doing a single back flip. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer

NASCAR has never had a winless champion, although it has come close a couple of times. Benny Parsons (1973) and Matt Kenseth (2003) both were one-win wonders.

But there’s never been a goose-egg champion.

Could this be the year?

Of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, four have not won a race this season: Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards.

So far motorsports justice is served – the driver with the most wins is on top. Mark Martin is first with five.

Second-place Jimmie Johnson has three wins and third-place Denny Hamlin two.

Next comes the winless Montoya who made a giant leap in last Sunday’s Chase opener at New Hampshire, vaulting all the way from 11th to fourth.

Newman and Biffle also made major moves, both climbing three spots.

With nine races left heading into Dover Sunday, anything’s possible.

What would be the repercussions if a driver who failed to win a race won the championship? Nobody knows, because it’s never happened.

But we do know that NASCAR got nervous when Kenseth flirted with the possibility in ’03; so nervous, in fact, that the next year it had put the Chase in place.

In theory the Chase – NASCAR’s playoffs – would light a fire under complacent drivers and cause them race harder to (a) make the Chase and (b) put more drivers in title contention down the stretch.

As additional incentive, NASCAR awards Chase bonus points for each victory.

So far reviews have been mixed. I favored the Chase because I agreed with NASCAR that something had to be done to liven up the show. But it hasn’t entirely solved the problem of points-racing. Leading up to and into the Chase some drivers still continue to play it safe and cautious.

I suppose the bottom line is that you can’t force a driver to race if he doesn’t want to.

While four winless drivers made the Chase, four-race winner Kyle Busch was left out. Maybe there’s a message: the aggressive young driver brings a wreck-or-win mentality to the track at a time when “consistency” is rewarded – even if it means a driver “consistently” finishes 10th.

I think Busch sometimes goes overboard with his antics, but I admire his fire and passion.

Tip-toeing to a title is not new. When Darrell Waltrip captured his first championship in 1981 he said his strategy going into the season finale at Riverside, Calif., was to “drive like there was an egg shell under the gas pedal.”

Darrell pointed out that nobody ever won a championship with their car hooked onto a wrecker.

But despite playing it careful in the final race, no driver was more aggressive than D.W. leading up to it. There was no coasting for Jaws. He won a bunch of races on his way to each of his three titles.

That may be the case again this year; a driver with several wins may end up as the champion.

But it’s also possible that NASCAR’s worse nightmare could come true, that a driver with no wins could hoist the big shiny trophy at season’s end.

If that happens, the champagne will have a decidedly bitter taste for all involved.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 22 2009
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