Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday October 8, 2013
In an interview following Kevin Harvick’s win in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway last Sunday (Oct. 6), the driver of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 29 admitted that he felt he needed another win in the Chase to further solidify himself as a legitimate Chase contender.
But is that really the case?
OK, so wins are important to get into the Chase, at least if one wants a safety net in case his points position is less than stellar. Wins are the first tiebreaker in the championship, in case two drivers end the season with the exact same amount of points. A victory even gains a driver a few more points than his or her competitors, especially if it’s coupled with leading the most laps like Harvick did at Kansas. Maximum points, aw yeah!
However, in the 10-race playoff that is the Chase, how much does winning a race really matter? Can winning be substituted with consistency — that is, consistent top-five or top-10 finishes? What have the past Chases indicated?
In all, 94 races have been run under the Chase banner since its inception in 2004. Almost every year since has seen the eventual champion win at least one race in that stretch.
The outlier is 2005.
That year, Tony Stewart won a total of five races, all of which came in a 7-race span in the summer. Once the Chase began, Stewart was strong, with two runner-up finishes — but no wins. Still, he went on to win the championship by 35 points. Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, who won the most races during the Chase that year at two apiece, finished third and fifth in points, respectively.
In fact, the driver who wins the most races during the Chase isn’t always the ultimate benefactor, either. Johnson won four times in 2004, but finished second to Kurt Busch and his one Chase win. Tony Stewart topped the category with three Chase wins in 2006, but he wasn’t even in the Chase at all. Johnson added one victory for his first Cup title.
On the other side of the spectrum? Johnson’s subsequent three championships. Each season, he won the most races during the Chase, either with or without a tie. Four wins came as part of his 2007 campaign, while three followed in 2008 — tying him with Carl Edwards, who finished in the runner-up spot in points. Finally, 2009 saw another four-win Chase.
More recently, Johnson’s 2010 championship featured one victory in the Chase, while Denny Hamlin (2nd), Edwards (4th) and Clint Bowyer (10th) split the lead with two wins apiece. The next year, Stewart famously won five times in pursuit of his most recent title. Brad Keselowski topped the category in his championship run last season, winning two races to tie with Johnson (3rd) and Matt Kenseth (7th).
What made 2005 even more of a rarity? It’s uncommon for even the second-place driver in points to go winless in the Chase, let alone the champion. That’s only occurred twice — in 2006 and 2011. In 2006, runner-up Matt Kenseth scored no victories, while in 2011, Carl Edwards couldn’t find victory lane in his Chase run.
So, what? Does Harvick really need another win or not? Is winning that big a deal in the Chase when it comes to winning the championship?
History indicates Harvick could be just fine. Aside from Stewart’s no-win Chase in 2005, three eventual champions only won once in the Chase. Sometimes, it just takes one triumph — and a hefty points day — to assume the throne.
However, since the Chase began, Johnson is far and away the top performer in terms of wins, scoring 23 total — more than twice as much as Stewart, who has the second-largest amount with 11. Since the Chase began, those are the only two drivers with multiple championships.
Perhaps there’s something to this whole winning thing after all?
Career Wins During the Chase
Jimmie Johnson – 23
Tony Stewart – 11
Carl Edwards – 8
Greg Biffle – 7
Matt Kenseth – 6
Denny Hamlin – 5
Clint Bowyer – 5
Jeff Gordon – 4
Kevin Harvick – 4
Kurt Busch – 3
Brad Keselowski – 2
Kasey Kahne – 2
Jamie McMurray – 2
Mark Martin – 2
Jeff Burton – 2
Ryan Newman – 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 2
Kyle Busch – 1
Brian Vickers – 1
Dale Jarrett – 1
Joe Nemechek – 1
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