*Did You Notice?* … That in the midst of simplifying the point system, NASCAR’s three championship leaders in the three major series didn’t win the first race of the year? Let’s review:
*Cup points leader* – Carl Edwards, 42 (second place in the Daytona 500)
*Nationwide* – Landon Cassill, 41 (third place in the Drive4COPD 300)
*Trucks* – Clay Rogers, 42 (third place in the NextEra Energy Resources 250)
Here’s the best part of all that; both Edwards and Cassill reached the top of the charts without leading a single lap of the race. And this system is supposed to promote winning? Huh?
Of course, the simple (or maybe not so simple) explanation to all this mess is that the winners from each series – *Trevor Bayne,* *Tony Stewart* and *Michael Waltrip,* respectively – were ineligible to receive points in the division where they won the race. OK, go ahead and read that twice. You got it? Good. Now tell me if the “44 – x” equation to figure out how many points your driver scored plus this whole newfangled madness is something you can explain to a casual fan in five minutes.
But I digress; we’re stuck with what we have, which means it’s time to think up solutions so this type of situation doesn’t happen again. And, while we’re at it, let’s remember the way to fix this problem is _not_ as simple as letting someone like Trevor Bayne score an unlimited number of points in both series.
Here’s a history lesson for you: an unexpected rookie getting a full-time Cup opportunity, just like what we could be dealing with now is how the mess of Cup drivers dominating the Nationwide Series championship came about in the first place. When *Kevin Harvick* was tabbed to replace the late *Dale Earnhardt* in 2001, owner Richard Childress decided it would be best for the youngster to keep his full-time Nationwide (then Busch) Series schedule on the side to gain more experience. Well, Harvick wound up ninth in Cup points – despite missing a race – won the Nationwide/Busch title going away and a decade of double-dipping dominance was born.
It’s all enough to make your head spin, a difficult position for NASCAR to be in with the points just one month after trying to reform the system. But honestly? After thinking about it, the answer isn’t hard to come by. What if you still have drivers check a box on their NASCAR license for what series they want to score points in full-time, while imposing a 20-race limit on all other divisions where they’d like to compete?
Here’s an example: If Trevor Bayne selects the “Nationwide” Series as his points-scoring division, that’s great, and he competes for the full-time championship over there. But if he wants to compete in Cup and Trucks, he can still be scored the same as any other driver as long as he competes in no more than 20 races. Compete in race 21? Sounds good to me, just expect a “zero” in the points column because you made your choice. Hopefully, you’re competing for the title elsewhere…
This solution would fix most problems and confusion in the Bayne situation. If he wanted to keep a limited schedule with the Woods, they could increase it to 20 races, still score points and be eligible for Rookie of the Year (which becomes a joke award, at this point if it gets presented to Andy Lally or Brian Keselowski instead in 2011). At the same time, he gets the additional experience needed in the minors, then contends for the title over there so he won’t be looked at as taking seat time away from development drivers. Bayne becomes more like a AAA baseball player who’s rotating between the major and minor leagues – as he should be.
Under that system, the move also allows part-timers to take the points lead in their series after winning the first race of the year, which eliminates the need for causal fans to scratch their head. But we should make one thing clear under the new rules, once they’re tweaked: _no_ switches. Sprint Cup fans have a hard enough time keeping up with the changes we already have; any type of in-season “swap series at will” precedent set by this Trevor Bayne situation could create some ugly scenarios for down the road.
Ugh. We’re one point into this column and I have a headache. Kudos to NASCAR for “simplifying” things…
*Did You Notice?* … How most of last year’s Chasers struggled at Daytona? Just three – Carl Edwards (second), Kurt Busch (fifth), and Kyle Busch (eighth) ran inside the top 10 while four left the track with a DNF (Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick). Does that mean there’s about to be a gargantuan power shift in the sport’s top division?
Hardly. Taking a look at Daytona’s top-5 finishers every year since the Chase was created, they’re more likely to _miss_ the Chase than make it.
Here’s a quick rundown:
*Daytona 500 Top-5 Finishers Who Made The Chase*
*2004* – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (race winner), Tony Stewart (second), Jimmie Johnson (fifth)
*2005* – Kurt Busch (second), Jimmie Johnson (fifth)
*2006* – Jimmie Johnson^ (race winner)
*2007* – Kevin Harvick (winner), Jeff Burton (third)
*2008* – Tony Stewart (third), Kyle Busch (fourth)
*2009* – No one made the Chase
*2010* – Greg Biffle (third), Clint Bowyer (fourth)
*Total:* 12 of 35 (34.2%)
^ – won championship
The numbers, as you can see, are startling: only one of the last seven 500 winners has won the championship (Johnson) while only three of seven have made the Chase. And considering Bayne is likely to not even running a full-time schedule, it appears that number will grow to three of eight.
Looking down the rest of this year’s top-5, realistically only Edwards and Busch have a real chance, considering Gilliland and Labonte have combined for exactly _zero_ top-5 finishes in their last two Sprint Cup seasons. So what does this pattern tell us? That Daytona is its own beast, one of four races a year the plates put the underdogs on par with the rich kids. And, as it turns out when they’re on equal footing some of the ‘dogs can do pretty well.
It’s too bad Phoenix will leave them crashing down to earth. Here’s a quick check of the top 10 from last November: Three Roush-Fenway Fords (Carl Edwards won), two Hendrick Chevys, one Richard Childress Chevy, one Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevy, one Stewart-Haas Chevy, one Penske Dodge and one Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Oh, there was parity all right … amongst the teams you always see fighting at the top. At least this time, after one race of seeing them disappear maybe it won’t seem like the “same old, same old” up front.
*Did You Notice?* … The man making all the wrong moves down the stretch at Daytona was *Tony Stewart?* He’s not quite at Dale Earnhardt, Sr. status, his 0-for-13 Daytona 500 record six off the Intimidator’s notable drought. But with sixteen career victories at this track, second only to Earnhardt, that goose egg is getting harder and harder to explain.
What’s worse, the 2011 finish of this race became the most notable hit-or-miss for him yet. With *Mark Martin* behind him for the final restart (who’s 0-for-27 himself, by the way), beginning the final two laps in the front row alongside the unproven Bayne you’d have thought this one was Stewart’s race to lose. Looking back at the final “two laps today,”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rs_7TwT4qhk I noticed Martin just didn’t get going and push Stewart very well, with his No. 5 car damaged from the early incident and not exactly in the best position to push. So circumstances played a role, but still… you’d expect better from him.
I think Stewart’s 500 killing moment actually came a few laps earlier, an ill-timed bump draft of *Kurt Busch* causing the *Regan Smith* hit and resulting spinout that set up the first of two green-white-checkered finishes. If it weren’t for that moment, Stewart and Junior were working well together and could have been a force to settle the race amongst them. Instead, they got separated; Junior wrecked on the ensuing restart, and that was that.
Neither Stewart nor Martin spoke after the race, the results left to speak for themselves. So you’re left to simply imagine the frustration, as you wonder how many more chances they’ll both have at this race where luck and circumstance plays such a role.
*Did You Notice?* … Some quick hits before taking off:
– How must *Bill Elliott* be feeling this week? Son Chase is aligned with Hendrick Motorsports, so I think he made out pretty good over the long-term. But it had to be hard to see that No. 21 cross the line after leaving the Woods just three months earlier. Was he hoping Ford could have stuck their necks out for him a little further to keep that seat? Or was this win justification that parting with a 55-year-old – albeit a former champion – was the right move, someone whose driving skills had deteriorated to the point the Woods were getting held back?
– I don’t read too much into Daytona, but Toyotas in particular were God awful. Eleven drivers led a total of 12 laps during the 500, only *Bobby Labonte* cracked the top 5 and shill *Michael Waltrip* spent his NAPA See My Butt 2011 tour using it to wreck half the field. Team Red Bull failed to lead any laps, both cars got caught up in crashes and *Kasey Kahne* also endured an engine failure in the Bud Shootout. If anyone needs a bounceback at Phoenix, it’s them.
– Whenever I think of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. these days, all I can think of is “Danny Peters’ column”:https://frontstretch.com/dpeters/32704/ from last week. I’m not saying that to self-promote, I swear; I just think he nailed it on the head. Daytona Speedweeks told us nothing about the No. 88, absolutely nothing in my opinion; there were too many emotions and outside factors involved. Phoenix, then Las Vegas will start telling the real story, if only because for the first time all year Junior will come to the racetrack and not have to answer questions about his father.
– For two people that were housed in the same shop last year, wasn’t it a little weird *Mark Martin* never wanted to work with Junior at Daytona? You’re talking one of the more respected restrictor plate specialists of his era, you’re still on the same team with him and yet all Martin could do all race was pursue *A.J. Allmendinger* on the radio for a two-car draft? Things that make you go “Hmm…”
Also of note: *Jimmie Johnson* and *Jeff Gordon* never really worked together all that much in Speedweeks, although to be fair both were wrecked by the end of the first 30 laps of the race. At Talladega, those two were attached at the hip… in comparison, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing and even Joe Gibbs Racing had their drivers working together for much of the 500.
– The Nationwide Series has Danica, new cars and a whole lot of Cup driver infusion. They have a short field in Phoenix this week, will start-and-park at least a half-dozen cars and endure the embarrassment of their point leader not showing up because of lack of funds. In comparison, the Truck Series has a handful of Cup drivers running limited schedules, competing against a bunch of well-known, full-time veteran names mixed in with an outstanding rookie class. Oh, and did I mention it’s half the cost to run the full schedule? The answer means their list is a robust 41, qualifying 36 and there’s a risk of one max start-and-park.
What’s the difference between the two? Simple: the second series never had Cup drivers or multi-car Trucks take over for a decade (although they’re dealing with two giants now in Kevin Harvick, Inc. and Germain Racing).
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