NASCAR non-winners not panicking yet
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Clint Bowyer figures his performances suggest a victory is coming soon.
Denny Hamlin says it won’t be time to start worrying until another month or more has passed.
With NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers viewing a victory as a near-certain ticket into the 16-man Chase for the championship this season, many drivers accustomed to winning are at least thinking about when their moment will come.
Bowyer has only two top-10 finishes to show for the first eight races, and he’s 16th in points, but he counts Martinsville, Texas and California as places where he was in contention, and isn’t worried.
“Our organization — our cars are running fast and (crew chief) Brian (Pattie) is doing a good job of bringing fast cars to the race track,” Bowyer said, “and our model has always been consistency and it’s strange when you’re not a part of that consistency right now. Everybody sees that in this sport.
“You’ll get that shaken off and get things smoothed out and we’ll get our win.”
Hamlin finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500, but has only one other top-10 run. He even struggled at Martinsville, where he’s normally one of the dominant cars, and sits 15th in points.
But like Bowyer, who has won twice at Richmond International Raceway, Hamlin has fared well at his home track, too, also winning twice, and hopes that might jump-start his team through some struggles.
It helps that he saw signs of improvement in the last two races at Texas and Darlington, where each time he was in position to be on the front row for a two-lap sprint to the end, and each time got a penalty for speeding on pit road. The mistakes relegated him to 13th and 19th, respectively.
“Martinsville was the one chink in the armor for us where it caught us off guard and where our short track package was,” Hamlin said, speaking of his 19th-place finish. “But yeah, after the testing we did during the off week, I feel like it’s a good time for us to come here. We went from a very subpar car the first practice to, in just one hour later, we feel like is somewhere around a top-five car.
“We’re making gains and heading in the right direction. Just as a driver, I’m so impatient — you want things. I feel like I want to take advantage of things that are at these race tracks because these are the race tracks that we perform so well at in the past, but you want to have the best of the best.”
Still, he said, it’s too early to panic about if he’ll win in the 26-race regular season.
“Honestly I think it will probably be mid- to late-June is when you’ll start to see times start to really move fast on you and look at the races that are coming up and count down when you have to really — what can you do, when can you throw a ‘Hail Mary’ to try to do something to try to get a win,” he said.
The list of drivers still seeking that first victory also includes four-time champions Jeff Gordon, who is nonetheless the points leader; three-time champion Tony Stewart; two-time champion Matt Kenseth; and none other than Jimmie Johnson, the winner of six Sprint Cup championship.
The only time he ever thinks about still needing a victory, Johnson said, it is when someone asks him. Otherwise, he knows that it takes winning races to contend for championships, and with so many series titles to his credit, he’s not in panic mode.
Not even at Richmond, where he’s won three times, but only one once at night.
“It would be great to get it here, especially at a track we have struggled at the last few times here,” Johnson said. “Yes, there seems to be at least a conscious effort to win races more and this big discussion about winning races, but you need to win races to win championship period.
“We have knocked on the door a few times and I think a win is out there for us very soon.”
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr