Mike Neff · Wednesday October 23, 2013
There are four races left in the Cup series season and the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are sitting 22 points ahead of the tie for third place between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. It is actually 26 points all of the way to the top spot where Johnson resides. Simple math tells you that Harvick or Busch would have to beat Johnson by seven positions per race and Kenseth by six positions per race in order to vault all of the way to the top of the heap by the time the checkered flag flies in Homestead. Could that happen? Sure, based on the fact that in any give Cup race one driver can gain 47 points on another driver who is in the same race. Will it happen? No chance, because the four races left are simply not going to result in either of the top two drivers slipping up enough to open the door for the pursuers.
The reason there is no chance is that this isn’t your daddy’s NASCAR. As the sanctioning body dumbed down the point system to make it easier to understand for the fans, they made it even harder for drivers who are behind in points to make up ground on the leaders. With the old system, the top six positions were loaded up with five points between each position. The next five positions were separated by four points so you could still gain some decent ground if the top point driver slipped. In addition, leading a lap was worth five points, now it is worth one. If the top drivers don’t lead a lap now they will, at most, lose two bonus points if one of the pursuers is able to lead the most laps.
While the point system is already against the drivers chasing the leaders, the real detriment to them attempting to vault from over 25 points behind to the lead is that the two drivers leading the points have been the winningest drivers all season and among the most consistent coming into the Chase. Now that the Chase is underway, Jimmie Johnson is the epitome of consistent, with a win and only last week’s Talladega race finish outside of the top 6. Johnson’s average finish over the first six races in the Chase is 5.5. He is heading to the track where he’s scored eight career victories, tying him for most at any track with Dover where he also has eight. His average finish at Martinsville is the best of all of the tracks on the schedule for the Cup series. Johnson has run 23 races at Martinsville with an average finish of 5.3.
Matt Kenseth has been a little less consistent with two finishes outside of the top 7 including a worst for him in the Chase of 20th last week. However, he also has two wins. Kenseth has been the class of the field on 1.5-mile tracks this season, and Texas is looming after the series goes to Martinsville this weekend. Kenseth has also scored wins at both Phoenix and Homestead in his career, so he can certainly get around both of those tracks well enough to bring home a top-5 finish.
The bottom line is Kenseth and Johnson are at the top of the points because they’re very good this season. Johnson built the largest point lead in the short history of the dumbed down point system before his horrible slump leading into the Chase. Even if one of them has a mechanical failure over the next four weeks, the odds of both of them doing that are rather enormous. That means that the one who doesn’t have the failure would have to be beaten by an average of six spots in EACH of those four races. In the previous six races in the Chase, it has been mathematically impossible for that to happen with either of these drivers based on the results they’ve posted. If Busch or Harvick wins all four of the races, they’ll be close, but the odds of that are even more astronomical than the top two both struggling greatly over the next four races.
The bottom line is that this championship is down to a two-man race. For everyone else, it’s time to start preparing for next season.
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