Clint Bowyer doesn’t like NASCAR’s new wild-card rule.
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Bowyer has fallen out of the top 10 in points and is in serious danger of missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup after making it in three of the past four years.
Bowyer is 12th in points, 32 points out of 10th with six races remaining before the Chase.
If Bowyer does not turn around his sagging performance and climb back into the top 10, he must win one of the next six races to earn one of NASCAR’s two wild cards, which go to the top drivers from 11th-20th in the standings who have won races.
If he does not win soon, he may have to sit back and watch two drivers that are behind him in points make the Chase ahead of him.
And, ironically, one of them might be Paul Menard, his own teammate, who became wild-card eligible by winning the Brickyard 400 last week.
Currently, Denny Hamlin (11th in points) and Menard (14th) lead the race for the two wild cards. David Ragan (16th) also has a win while Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and other drivers outside the top 10 but inside the top 20 do not.
The odds are not in Bowyer’s favor.
He has just four wins in 201 career starts, and three of them have been during the Chase.
Under last year’s points system, Bowyer still would be in position to earn one of the 12 Chase spots. But NASCAR tweaked the Chase rules this year, awarding the top-10 drivers after 26 races automatic berths and creating the two wild cards.
Bowyer doesn’t believe a driver behind him in the points standings should make the Chase, even if he has won a race.
“I’m just not a fan of it at all, because it’s doing just what I was worried that it would do — if [the regular season] were over right now, you’d have somebody that, in my opinion, has no business being in it,” Bowyer said after Ragan’s July 2 win at Daytona.
“If you have one good race, it doesn’t entitle you to be in a cumulative points [type] championship. I just think a team that wins one race [but isn’t in the top 12] doesn’t deserve to be in there. If I was a promoter, I would want my 12 best teams with the best opportunities to race for a championship.”
No offense to Bowyer, but I think he’s wrong.
I would much rather see two drivers make the Chase by winning a race than see two, three or even four winless drivers make it.
Though it takes consistency to win a championship, winning is what racing is all about and NASCAR needs to put as much emphasis as possible on winning races.
That was the whole point in implementing the wild card, and it has worked.
Ragan, Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski and Menard each pulled off thrilling upsets by gambling at the end of races. Not only did they want to win because that’s the ultimate goal, but the wild card gave them even more incentive.
Now, each is eligible for a wild card if they are in the top 20 in the standings after 26 races.
And instead of racing conservatively to score points and creep into the top 10, they likely will race all out over the next six races to try to win again, practically ensuring a wild card.
What’s more, other drivers outside the top 10 — like Bowyer — are now desperately trying to win to put themselves in position for a wild card.
Such scenarios have upped the ante, creating much more drama and excitement as the Chase nears.
That’s what the race to the Chase should be about — not drivers racing conservatively and points racing just to crack the top 12 or top 10.
The two drivers who make the Chase via wild cards will deserve to be there because they accomplished the ultimate goal — winning a race. And, let’s face it, after 26 races, only about the top five or six drivers are legitimate championship contenders anyway.
The rest are living a pipe dream. If they can’t win a race and score just enough points to barely crack the top 10, they aren’t suddenly going to catch lightening in a bottle and win a championship.
With six races left before the Chase, the race to make the Chase is as compelling as it’s ever been.
Instead of having five or six drivers still in Chase contention, there are 12 or more who still have a chance thanks to the wild cards.
That means a dozen or more drivers are going to be racing all-out over the next six weeks, doing anything they can to win a race and earn a wild-card spot.
That is the type of pressure and drama a championship race should generate.