Pressure mounts on Chase contenders

BY Larry McReynolds • October 3, 2011

The pressure on these NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers is intense.

They know that, on any given Sunday, any of them can go to Victory Lane and make an impact on the points. They know these will be the guys up front when qualifying rolls out. They also know these will be the same guys who will be at the front of the field, for the most part, when the checkered flag waves.

Things are just so tight now among the nine drivers who I believe still have a legitimate shot, that you can have a great finish while still losing ground. Matt Kenseth had a great fifth-place finish at Dover International Speedway last Sunday. So you would think he would leave Dover in a great mood, right?

Not necessarily.

This is where this new points system really, really tightens things up. Kurt Busch won the race and jumped five spots in the points and is now tied with Tony Stewart for third, only nine points back. Jimmie Johnson finished second. He also jumped five spots in the points and is in fifth spot, 13 points out of first. So despite finishing fifth last Sunday, Kenseth actually was leap-frogged by both Kurt and Jimmie.

That’s why all the focus is on winning. That’s also why, as we’ve said many times this year, you don’t see these drivers crawling out of their cars talking about having a great points day.

Winning is what matters.

They know if you win the race, you get 43 points. You get those three bonus points for winning the race plus one point for leading a single lap. If you lead the most laps in the race, well that’s another point in your favor.

Go look at how tight the Chase is.

Of the nine drivers who I still believe have a shot, there is a separation of only 19 points.

There are two guys tied for the lead. Third and fourth place are tied. Sixth and seventh are tied. That’s why you see these guys race their guts out to get up front even if it’s to lead one lap, because they know it is an extra point in their favor. Finishing one spot higher in the race gives you another point.

It can't be overstated how precious one point is right now to these guys.

The old points system worked for us for 30-some years with some tweaks along the way. It conditioned drivers to focus on good points days. I clearly don’t think that is the case anymore. This is the kind of Chase that NASCAR and the fans have always wanted. It was a dogfight to the checkered flag at Richmond International Raceway to see who actually made or, in some cases, didn’t make the Chase.

Now this fight continues, and I see it going right down to the checkered flag in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

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