Dale Jr.’s Daytona win is good news for winless drivers hoping to make Chase

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dramatic victory in Monday morning’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway was good news for his millions of fans. But it was also good news for a handful of winless drivers hoping to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

With 17 of 26 races now in the books in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, Earnhardt joins Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson as the sport’s only multi-race winners this season. Johnson has four race victories so far this year, to two each for Harvick, Busch and Earnhardt.

Six other drivers have won once and are inside the top 30 in points, making them Chase eligible: Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski; Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing; and Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr.

Kyle Busch is the 11th different winner this season, although at the moment, he is 37th in points and therefore not yet Chase eligible.

After the 26th race of the Sprint Cup regular season, the Chase field will be set. It will consist of all drivers who have won races and are in the top 30 in points, and the winless drivers highest in points needed to get to 16 drivers.

That means that after Daytona, the Chase field right now has 10 race winners — all but Busch — and the six winless drivers highest in points. Those six are Jamie McMurray (526 points), Jeff Gordon (500), Kasey Kahne (496), Paul Menard (480), Ryan Newman (472) and Clint Bowyer (465). The first winless driver outside the Chase right now is Aric Almirola, who has 441 points.

Of course, all that likely will change in the next nine races. If one of the so-far winless drivers finds Victory Lane or if Kyle Busch climbs into the top 30 in points, the number of Chase-eligible winless drivers will decrease.

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Worth noting — on average in recent years, the number of different winners in the Sprint Cup regular season has hovered between 12 and 14. And never in NASCAR’s long history, have there been more than 16 regular season winners.

Last year, 13 different drivers won races in the Sprint Cup regular season. And at the rate things are unfolding this year, that number sounds about right this time around, too.

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