In NASCAR, winning is rare, and only a few drivers who compete in NASCAR are realistically in contention to stand in victory lane at the end of a given race. That does not mean winless streaks cannot be surprising or frustrating. Some drivers have gone to great length to end long winless streaks, and here are the five craziest ways drivers have ended winless streaks.
5. Dale Earnhardt Breaks 59 Race Drought with Daytona 500 win (1998 Daytona 500)
What many may not know about Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 win was that this was Earnhardt’s first win in nearly two years. After an injury in 1996 and a struggling season in 1997, Earnhardt was looking for a reset in 1998. The Daytona 500 was always a race people knew Earnhardt would be competitive at even if he had not won yet.
Earnhardt led some early in the race, but he took the lead for good with 61 laps to go. The laps ticked away and the 3 car remained in the lead. Everyone was expecting something to go wrong.
A two car accident down the backstretch with two laps to go meant all Earnhardt had to do was race back to the line to hold the lead, which he did. Earnhardt celebrated like he had never celebrated before, and he finally had his first Daytona 500 win.
4. Tony Stewart’s Final Career Win Breaks 84 Race Winless Streak (2016 Toyota/Save Mart 350)
Tony Stewart had an injury riddled final few seasons in the Cup Series, but his final career win was something special. In 2016, Stewart had accumulated a career long 84 race winless streak after winning at least one race in each of his first 15 seasons.
At Sonoma, Stewart would not be denied. He would take the lead with 22 laps to go, but he had to fight off Denny Hamlin on the final lap. Hamlin bumped Stewart out of the way in turn seven, and the two barreled down into the final passing zone in turn 11.
Stewart slammed Hamlin out of the way off of the final turn, and Stewart took his 49th and final Cup Series win. It was the retirement season moment that “Smoke” truly deserved.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dominated to Break 143 Race Winless Streak (2012 Quicken Loans 400)
It had been exactly four seasons since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last win heading into the 2012 Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan. Earnhardt Jr. had multiple close calls in recent races including two second place finished at the Daytona 500 in 2010 and 2012, and two close calls in 2011 at Martinsville and Charlotte.
One Michigan rolled around, it finally came together as Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps on the day and opened up a 5.2 second gap on Tony Stewart. Jr. Nation gave arguably the loudest crowd reaction to a win in NASCAR history as Earnhardt Jr. celebrated his first win in four years.
After the most difficult years of his career from 2009-2011, Earnhardt Jr. found a career resurgence. He led the points for part of 2012 and would win four races in 2014.
2. Jamie McMurray Breaks 166 Race Winless Streak in Photo Finish (2007 Pepsi 400)
Jamie McMurray won his first Cup Series race in his second career start at Charlotte while substitute driving for Sterling Marlin. McMurray was unable to recapture that magic until the 2007 Pepsi 400 at Daytona.
McMurray started 15th that day, but he would not take the lead until very late. McMurray took the lead for the first time with six laps to go and swapped it over the final laps with Kyle Busch. McMurray surged ahead on the final lap at the line to win by 0.005 seconds.
What more dramatic way to stop a long winless streak than by a photo finish at the “World Center of Racing?” McMurray had a flair for the dramatic during his time in NASCAR.
1. Terry Labonte Breaks 2 100+ Race Winless Streaks (1994 North Wilkesboro and 2003 Darlington)
What is better than ending a 100+ race winless streak? Doing it twice! In Terry Labonte’s Hall of Fame NASCAR career, he did just that.
After winning the 1984 Cup Series championship, Labonte’s NASCAR career slowly declined until he went four full seasons without a victory between 1990 and 1993. In 1994, Labonte signed with Rick Hendrick and his career was revitalized with a win in the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. He would win the 1996 Cup Series Championship before another long losing streak began.
After winning at Texas in 1999, Labonte went the next 156 races without winning, and, a seasoned veteran, it seemed his winning days were behind him. That changed in the Southern 500 at Darlington when Labonte took the lead with 33 laps to go and went on to what was his final career win. An example of a veteran racer proving he still had it.