Victory Lane in Cup still reserved for biggest teams with the most money

7/29/2008 - NASCAR

One of the things NASCAR wants most is a level playing field. It's the idea that anyone has a chance to win on any given weekend.

Well, not so fast there, parity lovers. The truth is that most of the drivers on the starting grid for each Sprint Cup race have little or no chance of winning that event.

Some don't have good enough equipment. Some don't have the skill or the experience to get it done. And some just haven't had much luck this season.

Thirty-three of the 43 likely starters for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday are winless this season. That's 77 percent of the field who haven't gone to Victory Lane in 2008.

A few of those drivers have a good chance of breaking into the "W" column at Indy, especially Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon is the only man to win the Allstate 400 four times. Stewart has won it two of the past three years.

Clearly, they rank among the 2008 winless drivers who can win at any time. That can't be said for most of the non-winners.

For some teams -- Petty Enterprises, Michael Waltrip Racing, Bill Davis Racing, Haas CNC Racing (maybe not next year with Stewart), Hall of Fame Racing, Robby Gordon Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing, Yates Racing -- winning isn't a realistic option. Those teams account for 13 drivers in the field.

Three drivers who have won in the past -- Elliott Sadler, Casey Mears and Jamie McMurray -- don't appear capable of winning at the moment. They haven't run well all season.

Four other drivers in the top 35 (guaranteeing a starting spot) aren't racing at a winning level -- Sam Hornish Jr., Reed Sorenson, Regan Smith and Paul Menard. They are young drivers still learning their craft in NASCAR.

None of the drivers who rank outside the top 35 (and have to qualify on speed) have any shot at winning, including Joe Nemechek, A.J. Allmendinger and Patrick Carpentier. Nemechek doesn't have the equipment. Allmendinger and Carpentier don't have enough experience.

So of the probable starters this weekend, at least 23 drivers have virtually no chance of winning.

There are five winless drivers for 2008 inside the Chase cutoff -- Gordon, Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. They could take a checkered flag before the year ends.

They haven't won in 2008 mainly because Kyle Busch is dominating things with seven victories.

One driver who hasn't won a Cup race -- David Ragan -- will win soon. Ragan has shown enormous improvement in his second season as Cup competitor.

One who hasn't won this year -- Brian Vickers -- could win before this season is over. Vickers is a quality driver on a team headed upward -- Red Bull Racing.
Vickers has finished sixth or better in three of the past six races, including second place at Pocono in June.

That's the bright side. But even among the 2008 winners, going to Victory Lane is a rare treat. Only three drivers have more than one victory this season -- Busch (7), Carl Edwards (3) and Kasey Kahne (2).

Many people assume NASCAR has more parity than major open-wheel leagues. But the IndyCar Series has a better percentage of winners this year considering the numbers of races run and the total numbers of cars in each event.

The Sprint Cup Series has 10 different winners in 19 events among a starting grid of 43 competitors. IndyCar has eight different winners in 13 races among an average starting grid of 25 drivers.

Even Formula One compares well with Cup (percentagewise) this season for the number of winners. Almost everyone views F1 as a series in which only a select few can win, but F1 has four different winners this year in 10 races among 20 drivers.

So 25 percent of the drivers in F1 have won this year, compared to 23 percent in Cup for almost twice the numbers of races.

More teams and more drivers have a chance of winning in Cup than F1. But it's still a series in which the biggest teams with the most money win most of the time while everyone else just makes laps.

Perfect light doesn't guarantee a win
Ten times this season, an NHRA driver has cut a perfect light meaning he or she had a 0.00 reaction time, starting at the exact moment the Christmas Tree lights turned green.

It requires excellent reflexes and a little luck, but it doesn't guarantee a victory.

Three of those 10 times this season, the driver lost the matchup, including Del Worsham's loss to Ron Capps in a first-round Funny Car pairing Sunday during the Shuck's Auto Parts Nationals.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.