Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: Winning Has to Be More Important in NASCAR

About this time last year a new hash tag – #winning – kicked and screamed its way into our lexicon thanks to some voracious tweeting by the inimitable Charlie Sheen. It seems that #winning really was what he was doing; despite the impending predictions of dire doom from all and sundry. And so, on a much lesser scale, it was also a case of #winning for Kyle Busch, who parlayed a terrible start to the season into a fantastic weekend at a track at which he excels.

First up, older brother Kurt [Busch] (himself something of a reclamation project) held off a hard-charging Denny Hamlin in a thrilling door-to-door, wheel-to-wheel, breathless final few laps in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race. The victory was the first at Nationwide level for Kyle Busch Motorsports – a result that left even Kyle somewhat speechless (I know. I know! But it was true. I’ve never seen a more humbled Kyle ever).

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2012 Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond

Then, for an encore on Saturday evening under the lights (April 28), Kyle drove to a first victory at the Cup level in 2012 and his first since winning at Michigan last August. He also tied his brother on the all-time list with 24 top-echelon victories. For the younger Busch, it put an end, albeit temporarily, to what has been a largely fruitless, frustrating season at both Cup and Nationwide levels.

The question, however, becomes how important were those wins for Kyle? From a Nationwide perspective, as a fledgling owner in that particular series, you can’t begin to overestimate how much of a morale booster it was (especially for the sponsor) but on the Cup side it’s something of a different answer.

Clearly, winning is important with the new rules introduced last season with wins being a tiebreaker for drivers finishing 11th through 20th and his fourth straight win at Richmond might be the difference maker when it comes to Chase time. Realistically, though, it probably won’t make much of a difference, as I’ll bet Kyle drives his way into the top 10 before the cut off after the next time we visit the historic, 0.75-mile Virginia track.

But the point about winning remains. With all the tweaks NASCAR has made to placate a vociferous fanbase, the one glaring omission is the relative lack of importance placed on wins. Consistency is what pays dividends – even more so in the Chase, where two wins can be eviscerated by one terrible finish.

You only need to look at the second-place driver in the current standings (just five points off the pace), one Dale Earnhardt Jr., to know that solid finishes week in, week out trump wins. And therein lies the problem. Wins need to matter more. Not only that, they need to be recognized with a significant points jump.

Let’s say, for sake of argument, a win gets you 10 bonus points and another five (rather than three currently) come Chase time. The same system should also be in place during the Chase. We wouldn’t have had such a close finish last time out but given Tony Stewart won half the races in the 2011, you’d figure he should have been further ahead – far further ahead – than he was at Homestead.

At the end of the day, winning at the Sprint Cup level is extremely tough. Just look at the likes of those who haven’t won yet this year: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne etc. It takes everything going right for you to take the checkers and this is something that should be recognized.

NASCAR has shown a great propensity to listen to fans in the last couple years. Now the cynical would say this is no coincidence given the issues with flagging attendances, lower TV ratings, lack of sponsors and new cars, but the fact remains. NASCAR is listening. And it’s high time that they started listening to the growing clamor on the issue of wins.

It’s right and proper that you are rewarded for consistency, under the new points system, but the flip side is that a bad race can really cost you – especially in the final 10 races. Wins count but they don’t count enough and it’s time they did. Make a win so valuable that drivers will do just about anything – within legal limits – to get it. Until that happens, top fiving and top 10ing the competition to death can get it done. And that’s wrong in my opinion.

I wouldn’t go as far as my colleague Matt McLaughlin would – suggesting you give the title to the driver with most wins – but I would like to see wins mean so much more. It would improve things on track and given the way this season is going so far that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

See also
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2012 Richmond Spring Race Recap

One Final Point: This season your intrepid Frontstretch team will be bringing you coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series from the drop of the first green flag in St. Pete’s in late March right through the season finale in Fontana on Sept. 15.

For those who are not aficionados of open-wheel racing, this might just be the year to cast your eyes onto a different racing series for once as the action has been, well, fast and furious over the first four races. Yes, Team Penske driver Will Power has won three on a spin (and three of the four races run.)

But with the new engines and engine manufacturers, new chassis and a radically altered design, the Series has been competitive, unexpected and fun to watch. Now, thoughts will turn to the 96th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the Indianapolis 500. Mark my words, this will be a race not too miss, and likely a much better race than we’ll see in the 600-mile event from Charlotte that same day.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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