There has been a growing perception that the bonus points that accompany wins in NASCAR’s “regular season” offer virtually nothing as a reward to the drivers who collect them.
That perception could not be more wrong.
There were a multitude of storylines that emerged following the third race of the Chase and the whittling of the 16-driver field to 12 as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend.
One of the most stunning, and perhaps overlooked, is the role of bonus points for wins in keeping the championship hopes alive of two very big players – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Earnhardt won twice in the season’s first 26 races, collecting six bonus points in the process that he carried into the first round of the Chase. Busch won four times, bringing with him an extra 12 points.
Every point counts
When Kevin Harvick’s dominating victory was complete Sunday, Earnhardt and Busch both advanced to the second round – Earnhardt by virtue of tiebreaker over Jamie McMurray and Busch by holding a one-point advantage over McMurray.
Had either Earnhardt or Busch not had bonus points from their wins earlier in the season, they could just as easily have joined Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer on the sidelines for the rest of the Chase.
Even if both drivers had been without bonus points, Earnhardt would have made the cut but Busch would have come up five points short in 13th place in the standings.
During Wednesday’s Chase media function at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Busch spoke repeatedly of the importance of his wins – both in getting him in the Top 30 of points after missing the first 11 races of the season and in the bonus points that came with them.
“Without those four wins that we had in the regular season, we wouldn’t have made it through the first round of the Chase. Those bonus points that we had going into the first round is what set us free and clear to finish second at Dover and get us through,” he said.
“Years ago with the old format, obviously, I wouldn’t have had a chance for the championship, we would have just been racing races and racing for wins.”
I, for one, would like to see drivers in the Chase continue to be able to collect bonus points for wins as they advance through each round.
That way, even in the season finale, there could at least be a small reward for drivers who won their way into the final four spots.
The idea, though, that bonus points for wins don’t matter? That’s ridiculous.
Bonus points for wins are the ONLY reason Earnhardt and Busch are still competing in the Chase.
And should one of them win their first series championship this season, those bonus points that allowed them to advance out of the first round could prove the most important points of their respective careers.