Why are today’s Sprint Cup drivers more prone to miss races?

Kyle Larson (left), Brian Vickers (center) and Kyle Busch (right) have each missed at least one race already in 2015.

Jeff Zelevansky

When NASCAR’s championship was determined over a full season, missing races due to injury or illness wasn’t an option.

Ricky Rudd finished seventh in the 1984 Daytona 500 with his eyelids duct-taped open after a vicious wreck in the Sprint Unlimited.

One week after breaking his ribs at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1992, Davey Allison went out and won at North Wilkesboro. Later that year, he raced with a broken forearm and bloodshot eyes after a wild flip at Pocono Raceway.

In the 1996 Brickyard 400, Dale Earnhardt started the race with a broken collarbone, before yielding to relief driver Mike Skinner.

The reason these and other drivers were willing to endure the pain was the points system: Through the 2003 season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship was determined over 36 races, with every position in every race mattering. And only the driver who started the race earned points. Drivers couldn’t afford to miss races, especially with a points system weighted to penalize poor finishes more than reward good ones.

With the championship now decided over the final 10 races of the season, a driver is now able to miss a race — or multiple races — and still be eligible to compete for the title. All a driver has to do is win one of 26 races in NASCAR’s regular season and finish that period in the top 30 in points. Then it’s on to the Chase where the points are reset and the field mostly leveled.

Kyle Larson, who sat out Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway after fainting during an autograph session on Saturday, still has a great chance to make the Chase. So does Kurt Busch, who missed three races during a suspension. Even Kyle Busch, who could miss most of NASCAR’s regular season, has a shot.

For Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards, drivers are more apt to skip races these days if they deem it in their best interests.

"With the way that the points structure and the championship Chase is determined, if you understand that, hey, it might be best to sit a race out, then that has to be a more viable option than it has been in the past," Edwards said, noting that each case is different.

Kyle Larson medically cleared to return to Sprint Cup competition

"Right now if you had a good reason where missing a race might be better for your overall chances at winning the championship, whether it’s health or something like that, then now you can actually look at that as a real option. I think in the end, that’s probably good," he said. "If somebody doesn’t feel like racing for any reason, then having the ability to not do that, that’s nice."

Edwards, who has made 371 consecutive Sprint Cup starts, believes there is nothing wrong with drivers taking advantage of today’s more forgiving championship format by taking the time to heal from injuries.

"Everybody wants to race every race, but I believe we’re also all competitors enough and disciplined enough to know that if taking a week off is possible and it will help you, then that’s absolutely what we’ll do," he said. "Kyle Larson, whatever is going on with him particularly, if he takes whatever time he needs and then comes back and puts himself in the Chase and wins the championship, there’s not one person that will say that what he’s doing now is wrong, whether it’s in the garage or outside of it."

Six-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus agrees with Edwards.

"I like the fact that these drivers, if they’re not feeling well, if there is something wrong with them, they have the opportunity to get out of the race cars," Knaus said on Monday’s "NASCAR Race Hub" on FOX Sports 1.

"They can still come back and compete for the championship. That’s something new with this rule system NASCAR’s got in place," he said. "Obviously, Kyle Busch, he can’t drive, but Kyle Larson could have gone to the doctor and probably could have convinced that doctor, ‘Hey, give me an IV, give me some oxygen, because I’ve got to get back there to race tomorrow.’ But better judgment took hold and he was able to actually step out of the race car, get some needed attention and find out what’s wrong. I think it’s a great, great thing we’re doing now."