Heading to Texas this weekend, we have already had six different winners in our first six races. If you look down the list of names of drivers who haven’t won, I see 14 or 15 drivers who have a legitimate chance to win. Right now, it would be hard to challenge the fact that we might have more than 16 winners by the end of the regular season.
When you write down the Jimmie Johnsons, Jeff Gordons, Denny Hamlins and Tony Stewarts of our sport, you can quickly see where it adds up pretty quickly. Then if you throw in the races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, you realistically have to add in Marcos Ambrose into the mix.
Also, don’t forget there are still three restrictor-plate races left this season — two at Talladega and one at Daytona. We know those races are what we call the "great equalizer," meaning it’s a race where literally any of the 43 cars in the field could win. So you could have a surprise winner like David Ragan win again.
That’s why I have been pretty quick to steer folks away from automatically saying "win and you’re in" when it comes to the Chase. I can’t say for certain right now that we might go beyond 16 different winners by the time the regular season is over, but we probably are going to push pretty darn close to it.
I just think this format change has definitely put a bigger sense of urgency into these teams and drivers. I think if a driver can pull off that second win, then he or she is a lock for the Chase. I think being consistent in the points is still going to play a factor in this whole picture. I mean, I could see where a driver might actually have a win but be in the high 20s in the points and still miss the Chase.
It’s going to be exciting for us fans to watch this all play out. It’s going to be extremely stressful for those teams to watch it play out, but I credit NASCAR for adding this new element to the 2014 season.