If you look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings right now, you’ll see something interesting: Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne have exactly the same number of points after eight races. Yet their respective seasons couldn’t be more different now.
And that underscores why the new championship program NASCAR instituted this year has been so compelling.
Harvick and Kahne each have 186 points.
But if the Chase for the Sprint Cup was to start today, Harvick would be the top seed among the 16 Chase drivers and Kahne wouldn’t even qualify. That’s because while Harvick has four finishes of 36th or worse this year in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Harvick is the only Sprint Cup driver with two victories.
Kahne, on the other hand, has not finished higher than eighth in a race this season. And with NASCAR’s win-and-you’re-almost-certainly-in championship structure for 2014, winning races is everything and top 10s are considerably less important than they were in years past.
So even though Harvick and Kahne appear to be in a dead heat, points-wise, they couldn’t be further away from each other right now.
But there’s another side to that coin, as well.
Normally, if a Sprint Cup team went into the first off weekend 23rd in points, there would be deep concern and possibly even some personnel changes.
With the new points system, though, all Kahne has to do to get back on track, metaphorically speaking, is win one of the next 18 races.
A single victory in the next 18 races will pretty much guarantee Kahne a slot in the Chase, and at least a chance to contend for a title.
Certainly over the off week, Kahne’s crew chief Kenny Francis and the competition department at Hendrick Motorsports will leave no stone unturned in trying to find enough performance in the No. 5 Chevrolet to win races, or at least contend for victories. And with tracks like Charlotte, Pocono and Atlanta coming up, Kahne should have ample opportunities to win.
By the same token, with two road courses in the regular season, Marcos Ambrose has an excellent chance of scoring a victory and punching his ticket to the Chase. So does a guy like David Ragan, who excels at restrictor-plate tracks and is the defending race winner at Talladega.
And certainly it’s way, way too early for points leader Jeff Gordon, second-place Matt Kenseth or fifth-place Jimmie Johnson to be worried that they haven’t won yet. Even 15th-place Denny Hamlin has been in a position to win a couple of times already. Don’t count out Austin Dillon or Kyle Larson, either.
The bottom line here is that after eight races this season, there have been plenty of compelling stories but the field is still wide, wide open. Between now and the end of the NASCAR regular season, the intensity and the pressure will only ratchet up. And with it the fun and excitement should build, too.