CUP: Caution - Work Zone Ahead

There is no Sprint Cup competition until the second week of February, when everybody reconvenes at Daytona International Speedway for SpeedWeeks.

That doesn’t mean work will be cut back, however.

Clearly, there is work to be done.

Only Jimmie Johnson, now five times a champion, can afford to relax. And that’s unlikely.

Everybody else has quite a bit of catching up to do – some more than others.

A crowded field of drivers will open the 2011 season with ugly winless streaks – some much longer than others. Winning isn’t everything, particularly in NASCAR’s point system, but carrying a long winless string can be like toting an anvil. Falling short of victory lane every week tends to blunt any hope of momentum, and finally ending a long drought generally means more good things to come.

Quite a few big-name drivers will drag winless strings into the new season.

Most prominent among them, of course, is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hasn’t won in 93 straight races. His pain is felt by the huge masses of Junior Nation, who sit poised in the grandstands every week to celebrate the end of the misery.

Jeff Gordon, once as dependable as sunrise, opens 2011 with a 65-race winless run, and Jeff Burton hasn’t won in 77 tries.

Other tough streaks: Matt Kenseth, 70; Kasey Kahne, 47; Mark Martin, 45; Ryan Newman, 29, Martin Truex Jr., 131; Brad Keselowski, 63; Joey Logano, 55.

Some drivers can look back on the 2010 season and wonder what the heck happened. Some ran well on occasion but still couldn’t crack the winner’s circle.

Paul Menard stepped up his game considerably this year, but still had a best finish of only fifth. Truex Jr. also had a top run of fifth.

David Ragan, who figures to be under considerable heat in the new year, had a best run of sixth this season, and 10th was the best Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski could manage. AJ Allmendinger’s best run? Fourth.

Work to be done.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.