Given the choice between settling for a solid third-place finish last Sunday or risk it with a slim chance at winning, Joey Logano took the gamble.
He wound up finishing fourth at Phoenix International Raceway, but said the new rules that define the championship makes winning the only goal.
“I figured I might as well go for it,” Logano said. “With a win being so important you might as well go for it and I tried to stuff it in there three-wide and gave up a spot by doing that, but overall it is all about the win.”
Drivers no longer consider top 10 finishes as a successful race. Second place now is the first loser.
“We’ve all said that one race doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, but boy with the new points system it certainly guarantees a lot,” Jeff Gordon said.
Teams said they are more willing to stretch fuel mileage, skip tire changes and become more aggressive on the track to win a golden ticket into the Chase for the championship.
NASCAR announced two months ago that victories are the only way to lock into one of 16 spots in the playoffs. So far, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500) and Kevin Harvick (Phoenix) have earned a special winner’s decal.
“Well, this year it’s different,” Harvick said. “Not that you’re not going to be aggressive, but you have to keep the mindset right now of that you still have to finish the races, but as you get in that position you can start being a lot more aggressive with really anything.”
Another benefit for Earnhardt and Harvick is they can take greater risks to win
Earnhardt did that last week by running his car on fumes the final few laps.
“We were stretching it thin. We would have went with the same strategy regardless of the situation,” said Earnhardt, who finished second.
Harvick knows his team’s approach now will be different until the Chase starts.
“For (crew chief Rodney Childers) I think it allows him to stretch fuel windows and do a few things,” he said. “For the guys in the shop, it allows them to really broaden their horizon on thought processes and things like that. You can really get aggressive on really everything.”
And there’s no longer any contentment for those who come close.
“It feels good to run up front and be competitive,” Brad Keselowski said after finishing third last Sunday. “We know under this system wins are the only things that count. Last year you would have said second and thirds were great but this year they are just so-so.”
Although the new format is only two races old, Keselowski said it’s had a major impact on the way teams go about their business.
“I would say probably a little, yeah; it would be unfair to say not at all,” he said.