Winning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races is damned difficult. Even the smallest mistake — a slow pit stop, a bad restart or an ill-timed caution flag — can turn victory into defeat in the blink of an eye.
Just look at the numbers: Last year, only 12 drivers won Cup races. Twelve. Given that there are 36 races and 43 cars in each race, 12 isn’t a big number. There are a lot of guys — and one woman — out there still looking for that elusive first victory.
Here are six drivers with a good shot at getting their first career Cup win in 2016.
6. Danica Patrick — Is Patrick a long shot to win? Yes, she is. But with fast cars, a new, veteran crew chief in Billy Scott and another year of experience under her belt, you never know. The key will be getting in the right place at the right time at the end of a race. Martinsville, Atlanta and Kansas are some of Patrick’s best tracks.
5. Austin Dillon — There is nothing wrong with Dillon as a driver, but the team he drives for, Richard Childress Racing, hasn’t won a race since 2013. If they can find some more speed in the No. 3 Chevrolet this year, Dillon could find Victory Lane.
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — If Roush Fenway Racing gets its act together — admittedly, a big if — Stenhouse will be tough at Bristol, where he has two top fives, three top 10s and a personal-best average finish of 11.17.
3. Ryan Blaney — The Wood Brothers have always built great restrictor-plate cars, like the one Blaney had at the spring Talladega race, where he qualified third and finished fourth. And with the team going back to a full-time schedule, his odds of winning are much higher.
2. Chase Elliott — No doubt that Elliott will have a steep learning curve in his rookie season in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. But he’ll have consistently fast cars and a great team around him. Pus, he will get great advice from his dad, his teammates and the former driver of the No. 24, Jeff Gordon.
1. Kyle Larson — We’ve been saying for two years that Larson will be the next first-time winner. At seven tracks — Chicagoland, Darlington, Dover, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Pocono and Homestead — he has average finishes of 9.0 or better. This year, he seals the deal.