Mojo Race Report: The NASCAR Curse

There’s something gamers call the Madden Curse and it guarantees if an athlete appears on the cover of the EA Sports Madden NFL video game, their season will be plagued with bad luck. The Curse has been traced back to 1999, but does the curse exist for the drivers on the cover of NASCAR video games? Dale Jr. will appear on NASCAR The Game: Inside Line next month and spoke to USA Today about the curse. Jr. shrugged it off and said as long as Activision is developing the game, not EA Sports, the curse shouldn’t be an issue.

Unlike Madden which is released before the NFL season starts, NASCAR video games have been traditionally released towards the end of the race season in September. As a result, we’ve taken a look at how the drivers featured on the cover of the video game fared in races before September and those after to really see if the Madden curse affects NASCAR too. At the end of each segment we have a verdict for each year. Please note, the year of the game does not coincide with the race season. For example NASCAR 1998 was released in 1997, NASCAR 99 in 1998 and so on.

EA Sports NASCAR 98 – Jeff Gordon

– Average Finish Before Cover: 8.9

– Average Finish After Cover: 12.2

Before appearing on the cover, Gordon won the Daytona 500, the Busch Clash, Goodwrench Service 400, Food City 500, Goody’s Headache Powder 500, The Winston All-Star Race, Coca-Cola 600, Pocono 500, California 500, The Bud At The Glen, Mountain Dew Southern 500 and the CMT 300. Despite winning the 1997 Winston Cup Series championship, Jeff Gordon didn’t win any of the final 7 races after the game was released in mid-September. He was also the source of the DieHard 500’s “The Big One” at Talladega after a blown tire caused a 20+ car wreck. Verdict: The Curse is Real


EA Sports NASCAR 99 – Dale Earnhardt Sr.

– Average Finish Before Cover: 15.2

– Average Finish After Cover: 18.3

Dale Earnhardt, Sr. started his 1998 season hot by winning the Daytona 500 after “20 years of trying.” The Hall-of-Fame driver looked poised to make a run at what would have been a record 8th championship, however, the entire year was largely disappointing after his monumental win at Daytona. After his debut on the cover, Earnhardt was able only to find the top ten four times in the final races of the season which for the #3 was very unremarkable. Thus, it’s hard to point fingers at the NASCAR 99 cover for what could be considered one of Earnhardt’s worst seasons. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR 2000 – Dale Earnhardt Sr.

– Average Finish Before Cover: 12

– Average Finish After Cover: 12

Before Earnhardt would make back-to-back cover appearances, he won the DieHard 500 and the Goody’s Headache Powder 500 at Bristol. Quick side note – to win the Bristol race, Earnhardt had to spin out leader Terry Labonte which angered fans at the track.  After the game was released, Earnhardt had six top ten finishes and a win at the Winston 500 in October which helped him climb to 7th place in the points. The 1999 Winston Cup Season was the first time since 1996 Earnhardt would have multiple wins which makes the verdict clear, especially when comparing his average finish before and after the cover was released. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR 2001 – Tony Stewart

– Average Finish Before Cover: 12.6

– Average Finish After Cover: 11.9

The 2000 season was Stewart’s second year in the Winston Cup after finishing fourth in points the year before as a rookie. Stewart performed well the entire 2000 season with 11 top-ten finishes not including 3 wins before his inaugural cover. After appearing on the cover, Stewart’s results were equally impressive with three wins and four more top-ten finishes. His stellar year even inspired a book titled Rebel with a Cause: A Season with NASCAR Start Tony Stewart. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2002 – Jeff Gordon

– Average Finish Before Cover: 10.3

– Average Finish After Cover: 12.9

Jeff Gordon just came off his fourth championship in seven years before being featured on the game’s cover. His 2001 season started strong by winning the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400, the MBNA Platinum 400, the Kmart 400, the Brickyard 400 and Global Crossing at the Glen. After the game was released, Gordon won the Protection One 400 and had four additional Top 10 finishes. Worth noting is the New Hampshire 300 run on November 23 when Jeff Gordon got into a spat with Robby Gordon after Robby bumped Jeff causing him to lose the lead. Jeff retaliated by bumping into Robby during the caution and was consequently penalized with a black flag. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2003 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

– Average Finish Before Cover: 19.2

– Average Finish After Cover: 11.6

This was the first of many covers that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would grace as a race car driver. He had an inconsistent first half of the season, with finishes in the top ten and a win at the Aaron’s 499, but near-last place finishes in a handful of races as well. Despite placing 11th in the 2002 Winston Cup point standing, starting in the month of September, Jr. had two top 10 finishes and a win at the EA Sports 500 at Talladega in October which is ironic considering EA Sports is the source of the curse. Jr. would then go on to finish in the top 10 of every October race and one of the three races held in November. If anything, the cover helped Jr. salvage his erratic season. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2004 – Tony Stewart

– Average Finish Before Cover: 17

– Average Finish After Cover: 8.8

Calling Tony Stewart’s 2003 Winston Cup Season a disappointment would be an understatement. “Smoke” had high expectations for the season after winning the championship the year before. Unfortunately, not only was it Smoke’s worst season statistically, he only found the winner’s circle twice. Stewart’s season did improve after being on the cover though. He won the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte and would finish in the top ten of eight of 11 races held from September to November. Similar to Jr.’s success post cover appearance in the 2002 race season, it seems Stewart was able to do the same for his 2003 season. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup – Kevin Harvick

– Average Finish Before Cover: 15

– Average Finish After Cover: 19.3

Even though he was named one of the most popular drivers that year, when compared to the drivers featured on the cover, Kevin Harvick wasn’t a good fit. His most notable accomplishment was finishing 5th in points in the 2003 season. He didn’t have a win in the 2004 Nextel Cup Season or make the Nextel Chase. Before the cover, Harvick only had eight top tens in a total of 26 races. After the game was released, Harvick put together a string of top ten finishes in the last 12 races including a top-ten in September, two top tens in October and two-top tens in November. If the cover had an affect on the final races of Harvick’s season, it was only positive. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


EA Sports NASCAR 06: Total Team Control – Jeff Gordon & Jimmie Johnson

– JJ Average Finish Before Cover: 11.7

– JJ Average Finish After Cover: 13.2

– Gordon Average Finish Before Cover: 16.7

– Gordon Average Finish After Cover: 18

– Combined Average Finish Before Cover: 14.2

– Combined Average Finish After Cover: 13.7

Jeff Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson were coming off a strong 2004 season as the two combined for 13 wins, five for Gordon and eight for Johnson. Before his first cover appearance in the 2005 season, Johnson found the winner’s circle at the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 and the Coca-Cola 600. Gordon, before appearing on his third cover, found the winner’s circle three times at the Daytona 500, Advance Auto Parts 500 and Aaron’s 449. After the cover was released, Gordon was hit with bad luck/the curse. His crew chief quit, he had back-to-back 37th place finises and didn’t make the chase. Johnson, meanwhile, was able to capture two wins, five top ten finishes and had a chance to win the championship but wrecked in the final race of the season. Was it bad luck or the curse? Verdict: The Curse is Real


EA Sports NASCAR 07 – Elliot Sadler

– Average Finish Before Cover: 21.6

– Average Finish After Cover: 30.7

Elliot Sadler appearing on the cover was much like Kevin Harvick on the NASCAR 2005 cover. Up to this point in his career, Sadler didn’t have much on his resume which only included poles (starting the race in first place). Before appearing on the cover, Sadler won the first Gatorade Duel, had six top-tens and six top-20’s. After his appearance on the cover, Sadler finished in the top-20 of every race in September, but in the final eight races, he failed to finish better than 17th. Verdict: The Curse is Real


NASCAR 08 – Tony Stewart

– Average Finish Before Cover: 12.3

– Average Finish After Cover: 14

Stewart’s 2007 season started slow. In the opening race at Daytona, Stewart finished last and he didn’t find the winner’s circle until July at the USG Sheetrock 400 in Indianapolis. This win propelled Stewart to win another two races and finish in the top-ten in every race in July and August. After the cover was released, he had six top-ten finishes, but no wins and a 39th place finish at the LifeLock 400 in Kanasas and 30th place finishes at the Pep Boys Auto 500 in Atlanta and Ford 400 Miami-Homestead. Verdict: The Curse is Real


EA Sports NASCAR 09 – Jeff Gordon

– Average Finish Before Cover: 15.3

– Average Finish After Cover: 12.6

This would be the fourth time Jeff Gordon would be featured on a NASCAR video game cover and the 2008 season would be one of his worst statistically. Not only did he barely make the Chase with the 10th seed out of 12 other cars, but he finished the entire season without a win. He had 11 top-tens before the cover was released and 7 top-tens after. His post cover performances helped Gordon salvage his season and was able to jump from 10th in points to 7th. Gordon’s three previous cover appearances seem to have cursed his season, but this was the first time the curse appeared to be broken. Verdict: There Aint No Curse


Activision NASCAR The Game: 2011 – Jimmie Johnson

– Average Finish Before Cover: 15.3

– Average Finish After Cover: 5.6

Jimmie Johnson won the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship the same year he was featured on the cover on the NASCAR video game. He won a total of six races throughout the season but his stunning performances came after the cover was released. Except for a 25th place finish on September 19 at the Sylvania 300, Johnson finished 9th or better in every September, October and November race. He was also named NASCAR’s 2010 Driver of the Year. Verdict: There Aint No Curse




The curse only seemed to have an affect on four seasons while the other nine seasons went unaffected. Jeff Gordon, however, does appear to have been cursed by two of his four cover appearances and we would recommend he avoids appearing on future covers. Driver Elliot Sadler who found himself cursed by the cover never achieved much success before or after his cover appearance unlike Gordon and Stewart. Ultimately, unlike the Madden Curse affecting NFL stars, there is no proof of a similar curse for NASCAR drivers so Jr. Nation can sleep easy.

Verdict: There Aint No Curse