NASCAR’s new rules that makes winning the easiest way to qualify for the playoffs has created more late-race drama than anyone could have expected.
Proof of that came last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway when Kurt Busch used his front fender to push by Jimmie Johnson for the victory. And in the process, he likely earned a spot in the Chase.
“A win is a win,” Busch said. “If we get a second win, that’s when I would call ourselves locked in. But we have this consistency battle that we have in front of us, and I’m up for this challenge, especially when you have all this weight lifted on your shoulders with a win so early.”
The last time there were six different winners in the first six races was in 2003 – the year before the Chase was introduced.
Only once, back in 1964, in NASCAR’s 66-year history has a season started with seven different winners.
Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick all have victories this year. Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne are some of the drivers who haven’t won yet, and all have won at the next track on the schedule – Texas Motor Speedway.
Edwards said the unusual start is an indication there might be more than 16 different winners this year. If so, the qualifiers will be the top 16 in the point standings.
Earnhardt said as the list of winners grows, the more it
“Yeah I think it will change as it goes as we start to see it happen,” he said. “If we have a new winner every week, if we get into week 13 and 14 and we have got 12 winners at that particular point with 10 races left in the regular season guys are going to get a little more protective of their position in points.
“I hope that we don’t really get to that situation.”
ONE LONG ROAD: Car owner Rick Hendrick won his first race at Martinsville Speedway in 1984.
He returned to the half-mile track last Sunday having won another 218 races and 11 Sprint Cup Series championships.
“It’s been interesting to see how Hendrick Motorsports has progressed and changed and evolved,” Earnhardt said. “They were tough competitors when I was young going to races watching my father race. Just they seemed like they had so many resources and they had quite the dynamic when it came to drivers.”
Earnhardt gave Hendrick his most-recent victory at the season-opening Daytona 500.
Gordon drove Hendrick to his first championship in 1995. He won three more championships, while Terry Labonte (one) and Johnson (six) also have titles.
Earnhardt said the team’s success is a direct reflection of the owner.
“Obviously Rick has an influence on his employees,” he said. “Everybody really strives from the top to the bottom to give their best. It’s a cliché but it’s so true when you actually get to work there and get behind closed doors and see the influence that he has just on individuals. Everybody just pushes so hard to do something good every day. It makes everybody else’s job that much easier.
“It’s just good reflection of his influence on the company as a whole.”