Early-season parity clouds Chase picture

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15 different winners in the first 26 races for the first time in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup era.

Three races. Three different winners.

Yes, it’s a very small sample size, but if the trend continues, we may see more than 15 different winners in the first 26 races for the first time in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup era.

If that happens, who makes the Chase? Based on their answers to questions this past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there may be drivers who don’t fully understand the nuances of qualifying for this year’s 10-race playoff.

Here’s the bottom line: there are 16 Chase spots available. The first 15 are reserved for race winners. The 16th goes to the series points leader, if the leader doesn’t have a victory in the first 26 races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: General Motors

If there are 15 or fewer race winners in the regular season, it’s simple. All race winners qualify for the Chase (provided they’re in the top 30 in the standings), and the highest points finishers without wins fill out the remaining positions.

If there are 16 or more winners, it’s more complicated. The first 15 Chase spots go to the top 15 race winners, with tiebreakers being 1) number of wins and 2) position in the standings. If the series leader after 26 races doesn’t have a victory, which is unlikely, he or she also qualifies.

If the series leader does have a win, the top 16 winners advance to the Chase, and no one qualifies based solely on points.

Got it? Let’s hope the drivers do.

Some Notes:

  • Note from the #2 Miller Lite team to the #88 team after the race: “Much like our refreshing sponsor, when it comes to fuel, we thank you for being less filling.”
  • The big surprise of the day? Paul Menard’s third-place finish. The RCR driver departed Las Vegas quickly following the race, because A.) His wife is due to give birth to their first child at any moment, and B.) He gets really tired of confused Vegas tourists approaching him for pictures and asking him to sing a verse of “Viva Las Vegas.”
  • Don’t want to say Tony Stewart’s 2014 campaign is off to a rough start, but apparently black cats now consider it bad luck when Tony Stewart crosses their path.
  • Last week, Kurt Busch announced last week he would be pulling double-duty on Memorial Day weekend, and would attempt to run BOTH the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Many race fans didn’t consider running two races in one day that great a feat, until being reminded that one of the Daytona 500s broadcast a couple of weeks ago was actually a rerun.

NASCAR Numbers

1.67: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s average finish through the first three races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. After winning the Daytona 500, Earnhardt finished second at both Phoenix and Las Vegas, losing the latter race after running out of fuel on the final lap. Nevertheless, the start to the season is Earnhardt’s best ever.

100: The total number of laps led by Paul Menard in 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Bristol Motor Speedway. Statistically, Menard has had more success at Bristol than at any other track, despite his win in the 2011 Brickyard 400. The 100 laps at BMS are the most Menard has led at any track, and his five top 10s there also are a career high-water mark.

1: The number of points separating NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski three races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Earnhardt has a win and two runner-up finishes, while Keselowski has finished third, third and first in the opening three races. Jimmie Johnson is third in the standings, 16 points back.

5: The number of victories Kyle Busch has recorded at Bristol Motor Speedway, his highest total at any track. In scoring 12 top 10s in 18 starts at Thunder Valley, Busch has led 1,431 laps at the .533-mile short track, far and away his most at any venue.

7: The number of consecutive victories at Bristol Motor Speedway posted by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip from March 1981 through April 1984. Naturally enough, that amazing streak, accomplished with car owner Junior Johnson, constitutes a record for the track, where Waltrip won 12 times all told. His first and last victories at Thunder Valley came 14 years apart, in 1978 and 1992.

NASCAR etc.

- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never led the points standings for three consecutive weeks to open a season. This is not, however, his longest stretch with the points lead. In 2004, Earnhardt led the points after seven consecutive races – from race Nos. 8-14.

- Kyle Busch led a season-high 52 laps at Las Vegas, putting his NASCAR Sprint Cup career total at 9,860. He can become the 15th driver in series history to reach 10,000 laps led. He’s led 140 or more laps at Bristol in four of his 18 starts.

- There have been three different winners to start the season. Last year, there were five different winners to open the season.

- Matt Kenseth’s 10th-place finish at Las Vegas on Sunday gave him 250 top 10s in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. He’s the 22nd driver to accomplish the feat.

- Paul Menard’s third-place finish at Las Vegas was his best since October 21, 2012, at Kansas, which also was a third-place finish.

By Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service

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About this article
Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Analysis
Tags dale earnhardt jr., darrell waltrip, kyle busch, matt kenseth, nascar-cup, paul menard, tony stewart