Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NASCAR still has no clear championship favorite as second half begins

Now that everybody is finally finished sitting in traffic after the Cup race at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night (although they aren’t finished talking about it) it’s time to head back to a flat track to start the second half of the season.

The second half begins with a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway before NASCAR slams on the brakes with an off week to prepare for the home stretch of the season.

Even though everybody has speculated about what will happen as the Race to the Chase wraps up and the Chase begins, we still don’t have any idea who will be left standing. The points standings right now are as convoluted as they have been in several years.

Normally at this point in the season, somebody has established themselves as the regular-season leader. Although that counts for absolutely nothing in this sport, they still led the standings and would’ve gone on to win the championship under the traditional format. Not this year, however.

The past three races have ended with a different driver at the top of the standings, and there is little reason to think there might not be another change this week because Kyle Busch isn’t exactly the king of New Hampshire, although he certainly was the king of Kentucky last week.

Six drivers currently sit within 22 points of the top spot. While it will be nearly impossible to jump five spots in the standings, there is almost a guarantee that the standings will be close heading to the Brickyard in two weeks. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t matter.

Since the beginning of the Chase era, sitting atop the points standings at the end of the regular season meant little, but it has continued to mean less and less with every change to the system. In the first concoction of the Chase, the leader after 26 races was at least guaranteed to start the Chase on top. Next, the number of wins a driver had decided where they would start the Chase, and now it will determine the last two Chase participants.

Some people hate the new system, and others think the wild-card setup is the greatest thing ever. One thing’s for sure: It’s different. Consistency no longer is the king of strategies, but come Chase time, the driver with the most points, not the most wins, will still lift the trophy.

Perhaps, NASCAR has a system that finally combines everyone’s complaints.

Consistency still matters, but not much. Winning finally matters, until the Chase starts.

The system will never be perfect, and it is bound to change again a few years down the road, but this year it appears there might be more than just a few drivers in play for the championship come Homestead in November.

That is, of course, unless the #48 team pushes the perfection button again once the green flag drops at Chicagoland to start the Chase.


  1. The 48 team is just hangin' around, bidding their time, the proverbial snake in the grass...

    Given all the crap he's had to put up with this season and considering where he is in the regular season points standings, perhaps this will be the first championship season for Kyle Busch. I'm sure he'd like nothing better than to knock HMS out of the saddle given their history...

    I'm wondering who won't make the Chase. I think two or more of those who made it last season will be out this year. I think Burton and Biffle won't be there and it appears Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are tettering on the edge. Now that would be something for NASCAR to have 4 of last year's Chasers be out one year later... I look for Bad Brad Keselowski to slide in if he nails another win (Penske's Dodges are looking better and better as the season progresses) and possibly Dale Jr. if he can forget about which tracks he hates and just drive for points... Beyond that Ryan Newman is looking good.

    We'll see!

    Thanks jmayer!

  2. Dwindy1 - The #48 team always just hangs around and then goes crazy during the Chase. Last year was a great example. Johnson will be there, no worries about that.

    Kyle Busch is going to have to prove he can perform in the second half of the season. He's almost always good up until it's ESPN time and then he disintegrates.

    It would take a miracle to get Burton in the Chase, Biffle has a better shot. It's also amazing to see how far down in the standings some fairly big names are. Jamie Mac is 28th, Burton in 25th, Vickers in 26th, plus the MWR guys are back there.