Dale Earnhardt Jr., Oh for Want of a Win
When NASCAR introduced the new point system for the Chase for the Sprint Cup the idea was twofold. The first was to make it easier for the fans to follow along during races. The idea was simple. If you finish one position ahead of a competitor you get one extra point. The second and probably more important was that there would be a significant bonus for winning races.
Every year the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and teams seem to realize how important winning is. Sure there are some drivers that have been able to points race and get into the Chase but as more and more drivers get wins that strategy becomes more and more dangerous.
This year only Clint Bowyer, who is currently second in the standings appears to be safe in the top ten via points. That does not apply to those drivers who are seventh through 15th in the standings. There are 43 points, or approximately one full race separating seventh from 15th. More importantly, there is only twenty points separating seventh from eleventh place.
Twenty points is 20 positions on the track. One could easily loose 20 points by having a bad day at the track. Blow a tire and wreck, have a bad pit stop, any number of things that can go wrong and you are back. Jimmie Johnson blew his engine at Michigan and gave up over 20 points with his 40th place finish. Similarly Dale Earnhardt Jr. did the same losing a right front tire and finishing 36th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7th.), Brad Keselowski (8th), and Kurt Busch (9th) are in exactly that position. They currently will make the Chase but have no race wins. On paper It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal except there are four drivers in eleventh place to 15th place that have at least one race win. If they have a hiccup in one of the next 3 races, even a small one moving them to 11th. they would miss the Chase.
All the while those three drivers are minding their P’s and Q’s, the five drivers who have race wins are working hard to take those three spots so that they can take the bonus for those wins with them into the Chase. Greg Biffle (10th and 4 points in), Kasey Kahne (11th), Martin Truex Jr. (12th), Joey Logano (13th) and Ryan Newman (15th).
That leaves the odd man who will probably not make the Chase unless he wins, Jeff Gordon (14th) who is 26 points from tenth.
In the next three races the focus will be on those nine drivers. It is all but guaranteed that some will fall out and some will race in all the way up to Richmond. There is going to be some exciting racing the next three races. One or more of those teams Chase hopes will be lost for want of a race win.