The folks who make decisions for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knew their math and history when they raised the number of championship contenders from 12 to 16.
Only twice in NASCAR history have there been more than 16 different winners in a season. In the past 10 years with the Chase format, 15 is the highest number of winners. The average is about 12.
Six races into the 2014 season, six different winners have made it to Victory Lane. Those unique numbers would have been hard to expect from even calculating NASCAR executives.
It will take a full season, maybe a few seasons, before the full effect of eliminations can be accurately assessed. But it seems the importance of a win and the knowledge of elimination consequences will change driver and team strategy.
For now, six drivers know they are virtually locked into the Chase playoffs that now resemble Sweet 16 and Final Four competition with the win-or-go-home reality of NHRA side-by-side drag racing.
For some who find change abhorrent, it might do well to think about the NFL playoffs. Many teams with the best win record going into the playoffs have gone down long before the final second in Super Bowl action. Fans hate for their team to go out like that, but fans know that the best record is no assurance of playoff winning.
It should add some excitement to the Chase competition. Although many will hate to see their favorite driver eliminated in a three-race segment and not make the final four in Homestead, the rules are the same for all drivers and teams.
The rules are the same for all NFL teams making the playoffs, as they are for college football and NHRA.
The bar may be raised and the gauntlet may be more challenging, but in the end fans will get an exciting run. The champion will deserve the championship acquired by winning and avoiding elimination.
Chase action is 20 races away, but the next race at Texas Motor Speedway is Sunday in Forth Worth, Texas. Leading NSCS drivers shared their thoughts for fans as teams roll into the track for the popular Texas event.
Productive drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are on top right now, but Kenseth, Gordon and Johnson lack their first win of the 2014 season. Look for one of those three drivers in Victory Lane soon.
Earnhardt and other drivers appreciate Texas fans.
“One of the things I like about TMS, and this is genuine, is the fan support,” Earnhardt said. “It makes it a lot of fun to come here. Especially when the fans show their support to the track itself, it makes you want to race in front of them. It makes you excited to be here when they’re, in turn, excited to see you.”
Kenseth sees TMS as he sees similar tracks.
“It’s no different than any other track where you have to be able to get the car right, have a flawless race, all those things to have a chance at it,” Kenseth said. “There are always so many great fans who come out in Texas. I’ve been fortunate to have gotten some great finishes at Texas, but I always enjoy the challenge of that track.”
Edwards has enjoyed success in the Lone Star State.
“Texas Motor Speedway—the track has been great for us and winning the pole there last year was a blast,” Edwards said. “The gang at Texas always makes it a fun weekend. I look forward to shooting some pistols in Victory Lane.”
Gordon shared some of the technical aspects of TMS.
“It's a fast, high-banked track with multiple grooves,” Gordon said. “Should be a lot of tire wear—and 'drop off' of the speeds—during the race, which should lead to an exciting race. We had a fast race car in California. I hope to have another fast one in Texas."
Johnson has been close to winning this year, but has no checkered flags in 2014 to add to his vast collection.
“The characteristics of the track—the bumps and the surface—will make for an exciting race,” Johnson said. “So far with six winners in six races the racing in 2014 has been exciting for fans. We’ve run up front and led a lot but haven’t been able to finish the job.”
Johnson isn’t alone among many NSCS drivers with his final thought for fans.
“It would be great to get our first win of the season this weekend.”
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.