The Frontstretch: Wins Leaders Both In Danger Of Missing Playoffs? by Kurt Smith -- Friday August 28, 2009

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Wins Leaders Both In Danger Of Missing Playoffs?

Kurt Smith · Friday August 28, 2009

 

Remember the good old days, when we didn’t care who was fighting for 12th place in the standings too much? Those days are gone, even for me.

Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, two great drivers on opposite ends of NASCAR Nation’s polarization spectrum, battled to one of the best finishes of the year in Bristol last weekend. When Busch prevailed, it tied him with Martin as the series’ wins leader, which would tie them for the points lead when the Chase starts—except, oddly enough, both of them are in very real danger of missing it. Martin is just 26 points in, while Busch is 34 points out.

Meanwhile, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya are in playoff contention without ever having visited victory lane. Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch, with one victory apiece, are all but locked in.

I’m not someone who thinks it should just be all based on wins, or that a driver should have to win to make the Chase. The playoffs are supposed to be about the best of the best, which Joey Logano and David Reutimann have not been. A driver who scores three straight top 5s has performed better than the driver who goes for the win at all costs and scores a win and two DNFs, exciting as that may be. I don’t have a problem rewarding consistency.

Despite leading all drivers this season in wins, both Mark Martin and Kyle Busch are in danger of missing the Chase.

But after a 2003 season in which Matt Kenseth won a title by executing with consistency all year long, and a supposed outcry over a champion having only one win, NASCAR implemented a playoff system that encourages points racing to the extreme. And there’s an additional problem with dividing the season into two points racing segments: restrictor plates.

The combination of the Chase and restrictor plate races could be the downfall of Kyle Busch and Mark Martin in 2009, while at the same time boosting the title hopes of Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya—who between them this year have as many wins as Martin or Busch.

Mark Martin finished 16th in a Daytona 500 that he led and well could have won but for the rain. He finished last at Talladega, getting caught up in an early big one. He was taken out early for a 38th place finish in the second Daytona race.

Kyle Busch got caught up in the Junior-Vickers scuffle in the 500 and finished 41st. He got spun by Jeff Burton at Dega and never recovered, finishing 25th. A split second of judgment cost him a good finish at Daytona the second time around, resulting in a 14th. He not only led but had been dominant in all three races. To say he could have gotten three top 5s and a win or two with better luck would hardly be unreasonable.

That’s conservatively about 200 points that both Martin and Busch could have had without being caught up in typical restrictor plate madness—which would have easily been enough to cement their rightful position in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, at plate tracks this season: Juan Pablo Montoya—14th, 20th and 9th. Kurt Busch—10th, 6th, and 5th. Greg Biffle—20th, 7th and 18th. Matt Kenseth—1st, 17th and 8th. Throw out the plate races and you’d have a very different picture of who would be in the playoffs this year…and you certainly wouldn’t be wondering how the series’ wins leaders could be either on the bubble or outside looking in.

I think you get the point. Some people love the excitement of restrictor plate races, but in the end, this is the result. Three plate races can be enough to keep drivers that have been competitive every week from making the playoffs—and then one plate race in the playoffs can make the difference between hoisting the Sprint Cup and shaking the guy’s hand who’s hoisting the Sprint Cup.

Calling the Talladega Chase race the “wild card” is a PC way of saying effort doesn’t matter much when a restrictor plate is attached to the carburetor. A part-time driver with an upstart team can win, while a superstar with the best car in the field can finish last. Championships these days are usually won on less than the point difference between third and 38th. In a 36-race season, four plate races could still be fatal to a potential champion, but at least there were 32 other races to make up for it, and the odds of low finishes in four plate races were slim.

This isn’t to say that Martin and Busch haven’t had their troubles elsewhere, with faulty engines or blown tires at the worst possible times. But that in itself could have been overcome when 12th or better is the goal.

If you want to defend the Chase, you could say that this is a good reason for its existence—that drivers that run well consistently will have a chance at a title despite having some bad luck through the season. It’s a fair argument, but it can be flipped around, too…drivers could run well consistently all year long and then lose a title to a couple of hard luck finishes in the last ten.

The Chase and restrictor plates have made it possible for two top drivers, who together appeal to a wide range of NASCAR fans, to finish the season no higher than 13th—and possibly do so with five or six wins. Is this a fair reason to rid the sport of one or the other? I’m strongly rooting for both Martin and Busch to make the playoffs if for no other reason than a sense of justice, but it isn’t going to look good if one or both of them miss it.

It also may result in yet more “tweaking” of a point system that needs not a tweak but a major overhaul.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • I see Brad Keselowski’s taking over the No. 12. Would “Placeholder” be a good nickname for David Stremme? It’s not like the guy’s set anything on fire in the Cup series, but he’s spent pretty much his whole Cup career holding someone else’s place in line.
  • Of course Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has had a disappointing season. But I hadn’t realized how disappointing. Did you know that his finishes of third at Michigan and ninth at Bristol were the first time all year he’s had consecutive top tens? It’s also the first time since April that he’s put together two top 15s. Yikes.
  • I’ll be on vacation when the Southern 500 takes place in Atlanta. No need to correct me, I know it’s not the Southern 500. That was sarcasm. Atlanta is still a cookie-cutter.

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mick
08/28/2009 08:40 AM
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Plate racing is not…racing. Period. It’s a complete and total crap shoot. The drivers should just play bingo.

The boring 1 1/2 mile tracks and ‘dega, and football, is the reason I watch VERY little of the chase.

Oh, and if Kyle doesn’t make the chase it won’t matter. Too many fans and media members hate him enough that it won’t be a big deal.

But if the same thing happened to Jr., or any Hendrick driver, nascar would change the rules the following year.

Tony
08/28/2009 09:15 AM
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Mick,

Good point on the rules change. Didn’t nascar already do this by putting 12 drivers in the chase the year Earnhardt and Gordon missed the chase?

yankeegranny
08/28/2009 10:22 AM
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Sorry, but what other sport lets you in the playoffs based on anything other than wins? I still say,” If you win(and I mean a complete race, not a rain-shortened race)you are in. Imagine the racing we would see the next two week if every driver who has not won a race this year had 2 shots to make the big show. And think how hard those guys in the top 12 who have points raced all year would be racing. Instead we will have the ususal suspects points racing and the rest of the field who are the also rans this year working on things for 2010. Now which scenario is more interesting??? I really don’t care if there are 10, 12, or 20 drivers in the chase, just so there are all WINNERS,

NASCAR Jack
08/28/2009 10:27 AM
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I don’t see the restrictor plate races as being the problem. In fact they are better to watch than the ‘cookie-cutters’. It will be ludicrous as well as make the Chase less credible if Kyle or Martin are not in it. How can two guys with a combined one-third of the wins be excluded? It doesn’t make any sense. The only change needed to rectify this is to take the top twelve in points plus any race winners outside the top twelve. Too easy.

Ken
08/28/2009 02:35 PM
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If Kyle Busch fails to make the chase, NASCAR might take a look at the points system. However, if Mark Martin, a Hendrick driver, doesn’t make the chase, you can safely bet the farm that NASCAR will make a serious change to the points system to add far more points for a win. And just remember, we have the chase because Matt Kenseth won the Championship by winning only one race and playing the consistancy game for the rest of the year. Ryan Newman proved that to win a title, you have to be consistant. You cannot be Champion by winning 8 races and finishing 39th or worse in 10!

Kevin in SoCal
08/28/2009 04:06 PM
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NASCAR Jack, you’re very close to my suggestion. I would like to see the top 10 in points, plus anyone with a win that’s not in the top ten, that also ran the whole season. Then again, right now you’d have a huge battle for 10th place, while Mark Martin and Kyle Busch would be stroking it because they’d already be in the Chase as the 11th and 12th place drivers. In my scenerio, if you arent in the top ten, then your bonus points for wins do not count.

Herbert in Savannah
08/28/2009 08:28 PM
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Some years ago, I used to participate in a yearly race pool that was based on the golf scoring system (no, I do not play golf.) At the end of the year, the finishing position of every race for every driver was totaled up, and the driver with the lowest number was declared the winner. In the unlikely event there was ever a tie, the driver with the most wins was the winner. If there was still a tie, the driver with the lowest worst place finish number was declared the winner. In the six or seven years that I played, we never once had to go to a tie breaker.

I am a Busch brothers fan, and a Mark Martin fan before that. I got this way because Kurt was Mark’s obvious protege when MM first started hinting at retirement. Then, when Mr. Excitement punched Kurt in the head on pit road entrance, that sealed the deal for me. Winning a championship at Homestead after your wheel falls off didn’t hurt either. Kyle was just an (il)logical progression.

To see Mark and Kyle battle to a Bristol finish in classic Mark Martin style Saturday night was about as good as it gets. I would like to see that same last 10 lap scenario played out at Darlington. I’ll bet it would have ended a few feet differently.

Ty
08/29/2009 11:08 AM
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Hey Herbert you read my mind ! What a exciting venue that would be at the Lady in Black !

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