Points do matter, even this early

Hard hit: Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch crash late at Richmond.
Hard hit: Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch crash late at Richmond.
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Jeff Hammond

FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Cup wins as a crew chief.


So we enter Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway with a quarter of our 2013 season complete.

There are some big-name stars that are pretty far back in the points. The best example is Tony Stewart, who dropped another spot after Richmond and finds himself in the 22nd spot.

He is 136 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, but actually more importantly, he is 64 points behind Paul Menard who sits in 10th. Remember, the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set by who is in the top 10 in points following the Richmond race in September and then two wild-card selections.

I am sure every owner, driver and crew chief has his or her own perspective about when to start worrying about the points. Now back in the day, when I was sitting on top of the box, I looked and worried about points from Day 1. That Day 1 naturally being the Daytona 500. I always maintained that if you came out of Daytona with a great finish or even a decent finish, it sort of set the tone for the season.

Granted, the points system is different now. After that September Richmond race, the points are re-racked for the 12 members of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase field. The key is obviously getting yourself and your team into that Chase field. The competition is fierce and you simply can’t take any race for granted.


NASCAR on FOX brings live coverage of the Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. The green flag drops at 1 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.

So to go into Talladega, where anything can happen and usually does, not being in the top 20 has to concern a lot of drivers back in the points. The stress level goes up even further if you are back there and haven’t won a race yet.

Winning a race or a couple races will go a long way in getting you one of those two wild-card spots that are given to race winners not in the top 10 but inside the top 20 should you not be able to crack the top 10 in points.

Being that far back at this point will affect everyone. The driver starts to wonder and have doubt about his season. The crew chief and team start to lose confidence. It almost becomes a snowball effect on everyone as the loss of focus and frustration take over.

So how do you change all that and stop the slide?

You put together a string of great finishes or win a race. Yes, I know that’s easier said than done. We are entering the part of our season where the good teams begin to rally. Other than a road-course race, we’ve been to all the different style of tracks on the circuit, so the notebook for some of these teams that are struggling is filling up and I expect some of them to begin running better.

Is it time to start pushing the panic button? For some teams it is probably not, but they do have different levels of concern that might be starting to peak. Is it Condition Red yet? Probably not, but I can guarantee you there are teams that status is Bright Yellow with concern.

If they don’t turn it around and turn it around quickly, then before you know it we are going to be in the middle of summer and they are going to be so far behind that it’s going to take a small miracle to get them into the Chase.

And again, oh by the way, we are looking at Talladega this weekend. Trust me, crew chiefs get this sick feeling in their stomachs when you go to Talladega. You know that no matter how good your driver and your team is, it really has a lot to do with luck and being at the right place at the right time.

If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can have the best car and the best driver and have your Sunday at Talladega ruined in a split-second when you get caught up in someone else’s problems.

As we all know inside that NASCAR garage area, Talladega has no mercy on who she claims or who she lets win.

She just doesn’t play favorites.

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