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Points still a premium in Chase for the championship

By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel (MCT) • Updated Mar 18, 2014 at 10:59 PM

Points still matter, people.

Of course it’s not part of the NASCAR marketing plan, which puts a premium on winning races in the Chase for the Championship. But here’s the fine print:

Consistency is still important.

Do the math: 16 drivers will advance to the Chase after the field is set following September’s Richmond race, the 26th of the season. But it is unlikely that there will be 16 or more winners leading up to that cutoff date.

The average number of regular-season winners during the Chase format is 12.6, going back a decade.

So guess who gets in if that’s the case? Winless drivers based on their points totals.

And while all the talk is “win-win-win,” let it be noted that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won the 2013 title — and not his teammate Jimmie Johnson — had the new format been in place.

So far, the 2014 season has brought us four winners, including Carl Edwards this past week in Bristol. But check out the standings. Kevin Harvick, who won at Phoenix, is 21st. And Jeff Gordon is just 11 points behind the leader, Brad Keselowski.

“You still have to compete at a high level,” Gordon said at the start of the season. “I still think the best team is going to win this championship, just like they have back before they made the points change to the Chase and since they made the points change to the Chase. In the future, whatever points system is in place, I still think the best team is going to win.

“The best teams know how to put themselves in position to have things go their way. I’m a big believer in if you’re that talented, you’re that good, you communicate that well, you have the resources, you’re going to find a way, no matter what the system is, to rise to the top.”

Gordon gets it. And others do, too.

The new format certainly has amped up the stakes on race day. Consider Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte forgoing conventional pit strategy and going for the win in Vegas before running out of gas on the last lap.

Fans have to love that kind of stuff.

But at the end of the day it gets down to basics again. Consistency rules. NASCAR officials understand that there is a possibility the points leader may not even have a victory after 26 races but will give him the 16th spot in the Chase if that happens.

So while the public-relations spin has put a taboo on drivers saying “it was a good points day” after a race, the fact remains that a consistent number of “good points days” will push a driver toward the 2014 Sprint Cup title.

You’ll notice that buried way deep in the fine print of NASCAR’s marketing message.


NASCAR craziness

People often say that sports can be a religious experience. But the two don’t always mix and match.

Consider the creepy case of a woman in Tennessee who stabbed her husband because he was “worshipping the NASCAR race at Bristol.”

Stephanie Hamman reportedly drove her car through the front doors of Providence Church Sunday night and then stabbed her husband in the chest after telling him, “The devil is in me,” according to a police report.

“God told me He wanted me in there, so I drove my car through the front doors,” Hamman said, a police release stated.

Fortunately Steven Hamman was able to pull the knife from his chest and return to his apartment, where he waited for police and emergency workers to arrive.

His wife was charged with attempted first-degree murder and felony vandalism. Hamman was reported to be in fair condition at a local hospital Monday afternoon.

No word on whether she was upset over the fact that Carl Edwards won the rain-delayed race driving a Ford. Who knows, maybe she is a Chevy girl?

Jump for joy?

Edwards — a workout guy who places a premium on staying in shape — had an “a-ha!” moment before doing his signature backflip at Bristol last weekend to celebrate his victory.

“Oh, man, I thought, ‘This is stupid. I shouldn’t do this ... It’s awfully glossy. It might be slick,’ “ he said. “I didn’t want to stick it perfectly and have my feet go that way and break my arm on the concrete. That would have been terrible. I was actually really nervous about that. ...

“I don’t have a backup celebration. I ought to work on that, huh? It’s going to have to evolve. I’m going to have to give something to the fans, pull out a bunch of t-shirts and throw them to the crowd because the last time I decided not to do a backflip they booed me out of the place, so I can’t not do them.”

Fortunately, Edwards pulled it off for his 22nd career victory and first of the season — which essentially locks up a spot in the Chase under NASCAR’s new postseason qualifying format.

“We’re in the Chase and we’re going to go win this championship,” Edwards said.

Larson looms

Kyle Larson is a happy man.

He is one of several strong rookie-of-the-year contenders; one who just made a lot of noise by finishing 10th at Bristol.

“Finally at Bristol, we finally had a race that nothing went wrong for us,” Larson said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “Daytona I got in the wall, got in the wreck late. Bristol was the first week of the season that was mistake-free and drama-free, I guess, didn’t have anything happen to us. Hopefully we’ll have more and more of those.”

Larson, 21, is 22nd in the standings, trailing other top rookie Austin Dillon (14th).

“I think being there’s so many rookies in the Cup Series this year,” Larson said, “the veterans aren’t eyeing one rookie because there’s seven or eight of us out there. I am extremely young still. But I think it’s a good thing for everything really in this, being the new style of rules or whatever for this car. I’m not used to how it was in the past. I think that’s good.”


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