Top-five Cup drivers without a win
By Taylor Goins
January 30, 2016
It’s no secret that there is an abundance of young talent in NASCAR today, and that news puts a smile on the faces of fans everywhere. In fact, with the multitude of star drivers retiring recently, many fan-favorites are now racers around 25 years old or younger.
In due time, many names on this list will be seasoned veterans in their own right and will undoubtedly find great success in terms of both wins and championships.
Youth has not been served quite yet though, as none of the drivers listed have been able to reach victory lane in NASCAR’s top series yet. Some have had agonizingly close-calls and some are still waiting for all the stars to align, but it would be a safe bet that a few of these racers will breakthrough to the winner's circle in 2017.
It’s clear that these five drivers are on the verge of doing big things, and are currently the top-five Cup drivers without a win:
No. 5 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entered his MENCS career with great potential and promise, as he won NASCAR Xfinity Series titles in 2011 and 2012 before being called up to owner Jack Roush’s Cup stable.
Stenhouse still possesses this potential and promise, and his raw talent behind the wheel of a stock car can be seen on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, Stenhouse’s entry into the MENCS coincided with the recent struggles of Roush-Fenway Racing, and he has been unable to reach victory lane so far.
It is never smart to bet against Jack Roush and his drivers for long, however. Don’t be surprised if Stenhouse is one of the drivers to get their first career victory this year.
He is especially strong at Bristol, as he has posted a top-10 finish in four of his eight races at the Tennessee short-track, including his career best finish of second in August of 2016.
No. 4 Erik Jones
Erik Jones makes an appearance on this list despite never having driven a full season in the Cup series, but his NASCAR resume up to this point in his career speaks for itself.
Famous for getting his start in NASCAR by beating Kyle Busch at the Snowball Derby, Jones won a Camping World Truck Series title at just 19 years old in 2015 and turned many heads while making three MENCS starts as a substitute for Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth in 2015.
He had a successful run in the XFINITY Series in 2016 and posted a series-regular best four wins. Consistency and unfortunate breaks plagued the No. 20 team last season, though, and Jones fell short of an Xfinity series title in his rookie season.
Despite this small setback, Jones is more than talented enough to step into his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota and experience immediate success in the MENCS. Prepared in the same shop as Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 ride and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, expect Jones’ rookie ride to be quick out of the gate.
And there is no better 20-year-old to place in a quick race car than Erik Jones.
No. 3 Austin Dillon
Of all the names on this list, Austin Dillon would have probably won the award for “Most Improved Driver” in the 2016 season.
He improved his average finishing position by over six spots from 2015 and had the best season of his young career in terms of pole positions, top-five and top-10 finishes. Dillon was fast out-of-the-gate in 2016 and was able to place together a number of consistently solid runs to advance into the second round of the Chase.
It was easily the season where one can possibly look back in the future and say that Dillon “turned the corner.” Few would have been surprised if he found a way to win a race, but through 121 races, his best finish is third.
The grandson of car owner Richard Childress, Dillon does not lack for resources, talent, or a winning pedigree. Dillon also enters the 2017 season on a wave of positive momentum after such a successful 2016 campaign.
Fans of the famed No. 3 car may see the ride back in victory lane soon, this time joined by Austin Dillon and his trademark cowboy hat.
No. 2 Ryan Blaney
Last year also marked the first full-time MENCS season for Wood Brothers Racing driver Ryan Blaney. Blaney, a second-generation NASCAR driver from North Carolina, saw his share of success last season and was a consistent presence in the top 10.
Like his fellow 2016 rookie counterpart Chase Elliott, though, Blaney never managed to put all the pieces together and nab a win. Despite falling short of victory lane, Blaney still put up nine top-10 finishes and was a runner-up for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.
With their Penske affiliation, the Wood Brothers team has been able to deliver cars for Blaney that are capable of winning races on a weekly basis. Blaney (who is strong at Phoenix, an early track on the MENCS schedule) could very well grab a win soon into his second Cup season.
No. 1 Chase Elliott
Honestly, it still comes as a small shock that Chase Elliott is eligible for inclusion on this list. Elliott, son of 1988 NASCAR Cup Champion Bill Elliott, had an impressive rookie season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as he garnered ten top-five finishes and was the only rookie to make the Chase for the Cup. However, this sudden success raised the stakes on the already lofty expectations for Elliott, who took over the No. 24 ride vacated by four-time MENCS champion Jeff Gordon. With the eyes of the NASCAR world carefully watching every lap he drove, Elliott proved that he had the talent to back up every expectation place upon him and took home the 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Even though Elliott more than once came within a whisker of notching a victory in his rookie year, the elusive checkered flag managed to escape him through his first full 36-race MENCS season. Driving top-notch equipment for Hendrick Motorsports and entering his sophomore season with more experience than ever before, it is only a matter of time before Elliott secures his first Cup victory.