Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series nearing the halfway point of the 2012 race season, race wins seem to mean even more now. Sure wins all account for the same number of points throughout NASCAR's 26-race "regular season," but they still seem even more important as the series heads to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the Saturday night running of the Coke Zero 400.
There may be a few drivers near the bottom of the top-10 in points and just outside the top-10 looking at points as a means to get into the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, but for most inside and outside of the top-10, wins are becoming increasingly important.
It is tough times right now. We're definitely on the bottom end of an upswing.
For drivers inside the top-10, each win carries with it three more bonus points with which to start the Chase. Meanwhile, for drivers outside the top-10, race wins will be the tickets into the Chase for a couple more drivers.
"It is tough times right now," commented Bob Osborne, crew chief for Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. "We're definitely on the bottom end of an upswing. We're just going to stick with what we know. We had a lot of success last year, and we think we have a good set of notes to go off of from that."
Edwards is one of those drivers on the outside looking in, still in search of his first win of the season.
Add to that pressure of winning, the fact that Daytona is pretty much a crap shoot, a high-speed game of chess en route to the checkered flag. Sometimes an expected face ends up in victory lane there, but it’s not rare for a total surprise, longshot have you, to take the win.
Case in point, Roush Fenway driver Matt Kenseth and former RFR driver David Ragan. Kenseth claimed his second Daytona 500 win with his No. 17 Ford in the season-opener back in February. Rewind to last July, and David Ragan was driving the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford to victory lane.
"Once you get to victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series once, it's all you want to do again," Ragan said.
This year, though, Ragan is behind the wheel of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.
"At Front Row Motorsports, we've worked really hard to get in position to win certain races," Ragan said. "The plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway) are one of those events we focus on."
For many drivers, a win at Daytona is much more than simply a win at Daytona.
"Got to win races," last week's race winner at Kentucky, Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge, said. "Tony (Stewart) proved that last year."
Keselowski may actually be one of the few drivers with possibly a greater focus on points. After all, he's the 2012 wins leader so far with three. He also heads into Daytona 10th in points. That means that he's in the position to take the points lead, if the Chase were to start now. On the other hand, if he drops one position in points, that'll put him into a wild card spot where no bonus points are awarded for race wins.
Keselowski aside, the focus turns to race wins for most, and with Daytona's unknowns, the battle for the victory becomes that much more interesting.