'Have-Nots' Have the Headlines Going Into Richmond

NASCAR Wire Service Thursday, Apr 24 2019

Typically, talk going into a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race centers on who has been winning. You know. The 'haves.' This week, going into Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7 p.m. ET on FOX), the key storyline focuses on the 'have-nots.'

Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. An unlikely two-man cast of characters in a coast-to-coast show that is teetering on the edge of dark comedy.

After eight races this season there have been seven different winners with Kevin Harvick the sole repeat visitor to Victory Lane. Remarkably, this parity has not included Johnson or Kenseth, who finished 1-2 in last year’s series championship standings. The last season where the first eight races transpired without one of these guys winning at last once? Back in 2001, when Johnson was still in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Kenseth early was a slumping Sprint Cup sophomore.

This set-up isn’t meant to impart panic, despite the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format which gives race winners virtually guaranteed spots. It’s simply designed to acknowledge, well, the weirdness of it all. Last year after eight races both drivers already had two victories. Johnson, a six-time series champion, and Kenseth, the titlist in 2003, know how to win.

Richmond, known by many as the 'perfect track' – not too short, not too long, but just right at three-quarters-mile with 14-degree banking in the turns – could be the tonic for the decidedly imperfect seasons Johnson and Kenseth have experienced thus far.

Could be.

Statistical indicators are all over the board. Johnson has three victories at Richmond but the last came six years ago and he has finished outside the top 10 in the last three Richmond races. Kenseth has one Richmond win but that happened 12 years ago; on the other hand, he has top-10 results in each of the last three Richmond races.

It might be best to look beyond this weekend, to assess when one of these past series champions will break into the win column. But don’t look too far. Next week the series goes to Talladega Superspeedway, the 2.66-mile monster of an Alabama tri-oval where horsepower-limit restrictor plates are used to keep speeds within reason. Johnson has two Talladega wins, Kenseth one. At the other restrictor-plate events, held at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson has three more victories, while Kenseth has two more.