NASCAR’s new criteria for getting into the Chase for the Sprint Cup doesn’t completely diminish the value of points. After all, once slots are filled with race-winning drivers, the rest of the 16 driver/car field is to be filled according to the points standings. And, of course, there is the Chase spot reserved for the points leader after the Chase cut-off race at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway in September, race winner or not.
But it looks like the 2014 race season is shaping up to possibly provide other scenarios for which points may come into play when it comes to setting the Chase field. For example, when considering a possible number of race winners in the first 26 races (the length of the Sprint Cup “regular season”), NASCAR may not have fathomed there’d be more than 15 or 16 (if points leader after Richmond is a winner). Whether or not NASCAR thought that possibility was real, at least there was a provision made for that event — tie breaking by points.
Whether or not NASCAR fathomed the possibility of more race winners, that may be a real possibility, depending on who you ask. The consideration began with the streak of different race winners to start the season. Previous to Kevin Harvick’s win at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway this past Saturday night, the streak stood at seven different winners in the first seven races — the most of any season in the Chase era.
Prior to Saturday’s race, the debate continued. Would there be more than 16 winners (or 15 if the points leader after Richmond is winless)? So, would one win get you in?
According to Carl Edwards, there will probably be one-win drivers on the outside looking in come Chase time.
“Right now, by definition, you have to have that second win to be, definitely in the Chase,” Edwards said. “So much can happen in this sport. I believe there will be more than 16 winners. I think we will have 18 or 19 guys win races. I say that, because if you look at the list of guys that have not won yet, it is a stout list. I think things are going to get crazy, and that last race at Richmond, there will be some interesting stuff going on. There will be a few people needing a win or battling in points that have to step it up.”
Early on in the season, like win Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski won in the first three races, they were climbing out of their cars in victory lane making proclomations that they were relieved to already have their Chase spots secure. But are those Chase spots really secure?
By Edwards prediction, no. But if you believe NASCAR Hall of Famer and NASCAR on FOX broadcaster Darrell Waltrip, yes. According to Waltrip, there won’t be over 15 or 16 race winners. His reasoning for his prediction — the number of drivers who are known for putting together strings wins — drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, and like Matt Kenseth a year ago. All drivers who, by the way, have yet to win this year.
With a second win, though, Harvick can rest somewhat easy. As long as a driver is in the top-30 in points come the September checkered flag at Richmond he/she is in the Chase. After all, there’s no way there can be more than 15 or 16 two-time winners in 26 races. That would require 30-32 races. Harvick did recently look to be in danger of falling outside the top-30 where wins not longer matter, as far as the Chase is concerned. But his win at Darlington did catapult him up to 22nd in the standings, 68 points ahead of 31st. That’s something like a race-and-a-half’s worth of points.
As long as he doesn’t have another significant slide, like the downhill slide his Darlington win broke, Harvick is probably the only driver who can pretty much say he’s in. Come Chase time, though, will all the race winners be in? Or will that early-season mantra of “we’re in” not be so true after all?”
How many race winners do you think there will be in the first 26 races? Talk to us on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner