In any playoff system, points will matter
March 06, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Let's get this straight -- points still matter.
We can bang the "wins are now more important" drum all we want, but points still carry a lot of weight in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
Until teams find themselves in Homestead, Fla., for this year's season-ending race, points will continue to play an important role each week in determining which teams are worthy of a championship.
No, a good points day doesn't trump winning a race -- that's never been the case. But earning the maximum number of points possible didn't get tossed out the window when NASCAR unveiled changes to this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format.
Points were important when the season began back in Daytona, and they'll remain important after Richmond in September when the Chase field of 16 is finalized.
Maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick, winners at Daytona and Phoenix, greatly improved their Chase prospects by winning the season's first two races. But the drivers that trailed Earnhardt Jr. and Harvick across the start/finish line still earned points. Where they wound up in the final rundown had an impact.
That's because the odds that 16 or more drivers will win at least one Cup race between Daytona (Race No. 1) and Richmond (Race No. 26) are extremely small.
Since the original Chase format debuted in 2004, there have never been more than 16 different winners in the first 26 races.
There have been as many as 15 (in 2011) and as few as 10 (2008). The average number of regular-season winners during the decade-long Chase format is 12.6.
In fact, since NASCAR began sanctioning races, there have only been two instances of more than 15 winners in the first 26 races.
With the likelihood that the series isn't going to have 16 different winners by the time Richmond rolls around, the remaining positions in the Chase field will be determined by points. There's even a spot in the Chase reserved for the points leader after 26 races should that driver not have a win.
So while competitors can groan about "just missing" a win, and rightfully so, it's as important as ever that they don't toss away a good result by wagering on pit strategy, fuel management or some other gamble that could result in a poor finish.
Lest we forget, to qualify for a Chase spot, a driver has to be 30th or higher in points after the 26th race.
Those that have won races can afford to take chances; those that haven't will have to weigh the risk versus the reward. And that's really no different than it's ever been.
Once the Chase begins, that will change. Winning a race does come with a guarantee. Win one of the first three Chase races, in what's billed as the Challenger Round, and you're guaranteed to advance to the next round. The same holds true for the Contender and Eliminator rounds. Win and advance.
But again, points will remain a factor. With more teams advancing than there are races in each segment, non-winners will advance according to their position in the points standings.
The only time points won't play a role will be in the season-ending race, when four drivers square off to determine this year's Sprint Cup champion.
Wins are an incentive. But when the Chase field is finalized later this year, points will still matter.