So let me get this straight. One Cup driver (Tony Stewart) has won half the races in the Chase – four of the eight run so far – and he’s still not in the points lead? Yes, I hear you; he had one poor finish (an out-to-lunch 25th-place effort at Dover) plus another ho-hum 15th-place run at Kansas. However, Smoke’s other two finishes were more than respectable: an eighth-place run at Charlotte and a seventh-place effort on the high banks of “two-car tango” Talladega. Put another way, Tony has an average finish of 7.4 in the Chase thus far; that’s not exactly chopped liver. And yet those numbers — those four victories, or 50% of the Chase races run if you’re mathematically inclined — are still not good enough for first place with two races to go. How does that work, exactly?
But wait, you say, Carl Edwards has been the model of consistency, the epitome of evenness, in the past eight races and indeed across the 34 completed races so far in 2012. His stats certainly bear out that fact. Let’s review: Edwards has a low water mark of 11th at Talladega to go along with his second place at Texas, two third-place runs at Dover and Charlotte, fourth in the Chase opener at Chicagoland, fifth in his “home” race at Kansas, eighth at Loudon and ninth at Martinsville (despite being a lap down on a couple of occasions). This streak is good enough for an average finish of 5.6 and a three-point lead over the charging two-time champion who is hungry (read: insatiable) for his third Cup crown, the first since the reign of Jimmie began something like four score and twenty years ago.
Plus — and this note really is just for the record — under the “traditional” points format, non-Chase Edwards has a healthy, if not insurmountable, 46-point lead over a gentleman called Jimmie Johnson (remember him?) with Stewart a distant fourth, some ninety points back. Of course, this comparison doesn’t amount to a hill of beans but it’s worth pointing out that Carl has got it done all season long – something the No. 14 team cannot claim to have done with all four of their victories coming in the Chase.
Stewart was unequivocal in his post-race opinion with regard to the vexing points issue. “I’m going to be real disappointed if people are trying to make a story out of a guy that’s got four wins isn’t leading the points,” said Stewart. “It’s about 10 weeks, and you’ve got to be good for 10 weeks. You can’t just sit there and throw it all away to try to win a race and get there.”
It’s a solid point that Stewart is making; you can’t afford a bad run in the playoffs, especially when your principal protagonist is as relentlessly consistent as Cousin Carl has proved to be. But respectfully, I’d disagree with Stewart.
The fact that he can win four of eight races and still trail in the championship speaks volumes. I’m not talking about a huge fillip in points here but at least something. You get points for wins when the Chase field is reset so why, suddenly, are they not worth so much when the big dog and pony show begins? Had Stewart received an additional three bonus points for each victory, he’d have a nine-point cushion headed into Phoenix this coming weekend. That, to me, sounds about right. Yes, Edwards is to be rewarded for his consistency. But how does it make sense you get bonus points for wins headed into the Chase, and are seeded accordingly, but not bonus points for wins in the Chase itself, when you actually run for a title? I’m sorry; that’s asinine.
Overall, the changes to the points system this season have made things simpler, no question. However, there is a clear shift toward rewarding consistency over victory once the Chase begins and that doesn’t sync with what you have to do to get in the Chase (just ask Brad Keselowski). On the one hand, it’s hard to take issue with rewarding consistency, especially given the voraciousness of the competition at the Sprint Cup level, but if you’re going to reset the points and have a playoff/Chase system then what you get for winning prior to the Chase should stand firm in the last ten. As it is, if Smoke continues his phenomenal momentum it won’t be an issue; but if he misses out by a couple points come the checkered flag at Miami-Homestead, I for one will feel he got a little cheated.
*Two final points* from me before I finish up. Last week, I wrote about drivers already looking forward to 2012 and one of those I picked was the ever amiable David Reutimann. As it turned out, he was rather unceremoniously dumped by Michael Waltrip Racing the following day. As much as I love and respect the ageless Mark Martin, this move does seem harsh on the only man that has ever won for MWR (two races, to be precise). Yes, Reutimann had a tough season, but teammate Martin Truex, Jr. has hardly set the world on fire in 2011, has he? I wish Reutimann luck as he negotiates the labyrinthine path to a new ride in 2012.
And finally, how funny was it when Montoya’s wheel – following a racing incident with Geoff Bodine – flew off his car and underneath the ailing No. 71 of Andy Lally. It looked to the entire world that Lally’s Ford Fusion had simply swallowed the tire in its entirety. Good stuff, and it goes to show you there is always something to watch in NASCAR… even if the race is processional.
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