When NASCAR changed its playoff system, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, to an elimination grid of 16 that places more emphasis on winning, driver mindsets seemed to change as well.
NASCAR had to envision that its drivers would be more intense about wins, and for the most part, that is what has happened.
In NASCAR history, only twice has the number of different winners reached 16. That reality has led to the notion that a win secures a spot in the Chase. Presently, after 16 races, 10 different winners have been to Victory Lane in 2014.
Only 10 races remain before the 10-race gauntlet-style Chase. The quest for a playoff spot is more than half over. The urgency of securing a win is rising.
After getting a win, drivers and teams can afford to take more chances with pit decisions and track maneuvers, though winless drivers and teams may do some of the same just to get that treasured checkered flag.
Next up is the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky.
Four drivers with multiple wins and two without any wins shared their thoughts about the 1.5-mile tri-oval with 14-degree banking.
Jimmie Johnson has 69 NSCS wins, but none at Kentucky.
“It would be great to go to Kentucky and win, to cross another track off our list," he said. “We have run really well there, led a lot of laps but just haven’t been able to score a win.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a good year and considers Kentucky to be a unique track.
“The car should be fast, should be quick,” Junior said. “It’s a fun place to run at. It’s got some bumps and some characteristics that are unique to that track. I can’t wait to get there and see what condition the racetrack is in.”
Joey Logano has won multiple races at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series. He shared his thoughts about his chances this weekend.
"The track is different now," Logano said. "It’s a lot bumpier. The competition has gotten so tough. When there are 20 guys that can win on any given weekend, you can’t expect people to go out there and win two or three races in-a-row anymore at one track."
Kevin Harvick summed up the status of KS.
“It’s the newest, oldest track we go to,” Harvick said. “Kentucky Speedway is very rough. The corners are longer so they’re not as sharp, but the roughness of the racing surface is really what makes it unique in my mind. There is still a lot of grip.”
Paul Menard has been quietly moving up the standings this season and needs a win to add to his competitive finishes.
“It's one of the oldest surfaces we go to with the bumps that are characteristic of an old, worn-out track,” Menard said. “It's real flat, very wide. The fact that it is so multi-grooved makes it a fun track. You can run the middle. You can run all over the place."
Kyle Larson has been overcoming the learning curve and earning points, but he still needs a win to make his rookie year special.
“I’ve only raced there a few times, but I tend to favor mile and a half tracks,” Larson said. “I know Kentucky will be another physical track with the bumps, so hopefully my arms are recovered from driving around Sonoma without power steering for a while.”
Perhaps Kentucky will yield a winner who hasn’t yet been to Victory Lane. Many drivers and officials have said that about 20 drivers with top teams are capable of winning any race at the Cup level. Only 10 different drivers have won so far, so the odds are that at least a couple more will snatch a checkered flag in 2014.
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.