For better or worse: NASCAR producing more winners than ever

Posted Friday, Apr. 04, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Number crunch

With a new Chase format, NASCAR might find itself with a conundrum:

6Different drivers have won in the first six Sprint Cup races this season.

16Spots in the Chase. Race winners automatically make the Chase ... unless there are more than 16 winners, in which case points will come back into play.

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Everybody is counting winners in NASCAR.

So far, it’s six in six races.

And considering that six-time Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson has not won yet, and that he won the last race contested at Texas Motor Speedway, it might be seven-for-seven after the Duck Commander 500 on Sunday.

Does that sound good?

“It should be good for the sport. You’ve got a lot of winners, so that means there’s not one guy dominating,” Ford driver Joey Logano said. “I think it’s good for the sport to have multiple winners. I really want to be on the list right now.”

Everybody is counting winners because, now, every winner gets a spot in the NASCAR postseason, the “Chase for the Championship.”

But there are only 16 spots in the Chase.

What if there are more than 16 winners? It means points — the old way of handing out Chase spots — become important again. Not every winner would be in. Victories would lose value.

Does that sound good?

“I don’t particularly as a driver want to see a lot of winners,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who got his win out of the way in the first week, at the Daytona 500. “I want to win them all.”

NASCAR has a conundrum.

It’s good for the sport if there are a lot of winners.

But the more winners there are, the less impactful is NASCAR’s idea of tying playoff berths to wins. In a sense, the more, the worse.

“If I’m wearing my hat, I just want the No. 48 to win every week,” Johnson said. “But for this sport and our fans, I think it’s great to have multiple winners. It shows the parity and lets each driver’s fan base get their time in the spotlight. And also, the personalities that exist in the garage area have a great way of coming out in Victory Lane.”

But ...

“The whole ‘win-you’re-in-the-Chase-for-sure,’ it would throw a kink in the armor there,” said AJ Allmendinger.

The armor might be pretty safe, actually.

There have never been more than 16 winners in 26 races — the cutoff for the Chase — in a NASCAR season. There were 16 in 2003, when there were a record 10 winners in 10 races to start the season, and 15 in 2001, 2002 and 2011.

“Will we have 16 by the time the Chase starts? I don’t think so,” said Kyle Busch, who won in Week 5, at California. “I think you’ll see 12 to 14 different winners by the time the Chase starts.”

But then, no NASCAR season has ever been contested under these rules. The Chase format is only a decade old, and this is the first year NASCAR has awarded berths on victories first.

The longer a driver goes without a win, the more the season changes on them. It is new territory for NASCAR.

“I don’t feel like I need to change my viewpoint on winning races and trying to transfer into the Chase,” Johnson said. “If there’s a race or two to go and I don’t have a victory, it’s definitely going to change my opinion then.

“I firmly believe it’s pretty rare to have 16 winners in a season, especially 16 winners in 26 races. If the win column keeps growing like it has without repeat winners, it will shoot my mindset completely apart.”

Does that sound good?

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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