It's nine races into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and neither Jimmie Johnson nor Jeff Gordon has won a single race.
There is, of course, a profound difference between the so-far winless seasons of Johnson and Gordon, and the so-far miserable one in production by the fourth Hendrick driver in the fold, Kasey Kahne. While Kahne is mired in 22nd in the current points standings, Gordon is first and Johnson is eighth, respectively.
So let's forget Kahne for a moment, although NASCAR's new rules governing who qualifies for the Chase for the Sprint Cup certainly allow him hope for salvaging his season.
This is about Gordon and Johnson, who have 10 Cup championships between them. Which driver—four-time (Gordon) or six-time (Johnson)—should be most concerned about having yet to score his first victory this season?
Given the bare-bones nature of the question, the answer is obvious.
There is plenty of time for both to get to Victory Lane—even multiple times—and make a run at another championship in the Chase. Plus, both are beginning to show the kind of consistent speed it takes to make a run at not only race wins, but ultimately at another title.
In fact, it's not out of the realm of possibility that these two, currently winless Hendrick drivers could end up battling each other for the Sprint Cup championship before it's all said and done.
Gordon has been remarkably consistent with seven top-10 and four top-five finishes in the first nine races, including second-place runs in two of the last three. But it wasn't until he led a race-high 173 laps in the last race at Richmond that he truly showed the kind of speed and ability to run up front for long stretches. That speed indicates the possibility of multiple wins lurking around the next left turn.
It is, without a doubt, a great sign for Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet team that he has, in the last three races, led 40 laps at Texas while finishing second; led eight laps while finishing seventh at Darlington; and led the 173 at Richmond before settling for another runner-up finish behind eventual winner Joey Logano.
Until that stretch of three races, Gordon had led a grand total of 27 laps over the first six. His total for the season was up to only 75 prior to Richmond.
Johnson, on the other hand, has led a total of 501 laps so far this season in his No. 48 Chevy. He arguably had a good enough car to win at Martinsville, Fontana, Bristol, Las Vegas and even in the Daytona 500. That's not to say he should have won all of those races, but he easily could have won two of them—with a late blown tire costing him at Fontana and finishing second to Kurt Busch, despite leading a race-high 296 laps, at Martisnville.
That's why Johnson said he isn't worried at all.
"Honestly, I get asked about it and that is the only time it comes through my mind," Johnson told the media at Richmond when asked about having not yet won a race. "I don't know how long we went in the past before we won a race at the start of the season. We still have 28, 30 races left, whatever it is (actually it's 27 after Richmond).
"I don't have a fear that I'm not going to make the Chase and I'm not going to win a race. If we were running 15th and 20th every week, I would be nervous and honestly I would tell you about it. But the fact that we have been knocking on the door gives me great hope and optimism and doesn't change anything from this year versus any other year mentally."
For the record, Gordon isn't concerned, either. He did tell NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, now an analyst with Fox Sports, that under the new format he would rather have two wins and be 22nd in points right now rather than be first with no victories.
But he knows there is plenty of time left in the season and that his team is headed in the right direction—and fast.
"Overall I'm very happy with the results of this race team and the effort," he said after Richmond. "I'm having so much fun."
Don't be surprised if one of these two has so much fun that he's celebrating in Victory Lane at Talladega after Sunday's Aaron's 499 at the superspeedway. It's only a matter of time.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand by the writer.
Joe Menzer has written two books about NASCAR and now writes about it, along with college basketball, , golf and the NBA, for Bleacher Report. Follow Joe on Twitter @OneMenz.
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