Hot 20 – Chase Races Should be Reserved for Only Championship Contenders

On the track, everything is just hunky dory for Dale Earnhardt Jr. For our money, he sits as the best on the season to this point, but there are a couple of storm clouds just over the horizon. Steve Letarte moves from crew chief to a pretty face on television next season, and the National Guard might be heading into the sunset with him. To be honest, we have long known about one, and have had suspicions about the other. Still, for you and I, these questions marks do not need to bother us until next year. We got a championship run to cheer on.

The championship. Once, the best at the end of the year was given the crown. Then we got the Chase, and it was a race between ten to a dozen contenders as it evolved, with more than 30 without a ghost of a shot still out there over the final ten weeks. Now, we go with 16 drivers, whittle them down by four every three weeks, until only four of the 43 who will take to the track at Homestead are still in contention, with winner (or the best of the four that day) take all.

We have not quite reached perfection just yet, though the change in the points system itself is about as close as it gets. Start, you get a point, and win you get 43 plus one for leading the last lap, one for leading the most laps and three as an extra bonus for winning. Not bad, but as I suggest in these rankings I would bump that bonus from three to 25.

As we have seen, a win and you are in gives teams an immunity for bad behavior as long as they retain credit for the victory and stay amongst the Top 30 in the standings. This season, that means compiling an average of just 16.5 points per race, or being somewhere between 26th and 27th each week. Teams that can not do that simply do not matter. A win has put Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, and Kurt Busch into a shot at contention, even though all sit outside the Top 20 in points. They would slip in, forcing the likes of Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, and Paul Menard out into the cold. Personally, I would rather give a larger points bonus, and not a free pass to single race winners, so I might see real contenders vie for the title rather than pretenders who had good fortune just for one day.

Why quit there? The Cup series has run 36 points races per season only since 2001. It was between 28 and 33 events between 1972 and 1998. So, let us cut it off at 31, then let the top 20 vie for the championship in a five race playoff. A real post-season, just like all those other big boy leagues, with just twenty contenders on the track and the rest stay home. So, what happens if one driver runs away with it over the final five? Give him or her the damn title and celebrate. Sometimes those other kids see their championships decided in four game sweeps. They seem to survive it.

*Win bonus expanded from 3 to 25

1 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 806  Points – 3 Wins
2 – Jeff Gordon – 801 – 2
3 – Brad Keselowski – 753 – 3
4 – Jimmie Johnson – 699 – 3
5 – Joey Logano – 677 – 2
6 – Matt Kenseth – 668 – 0
7 – Carl Edwards – 662 – 2
8 – Kevin Harvick – 652 – 2
9 – Ryan Newman – 642 – 0
10 – Kyle Busch – 633 – 1
11 – Clint Bowyer – 617 – 0
12 – Kyle Larson – 595 – 0
13 – Greg Biffle – 590 – 0
14 – Kasey Kahne – 589 – 0
15 – Austin Dillon – 588 – 0
16 – Paul Menard – 562 – 0
17 – Denny Hamlin – 554 – 1
18 – Marcos Ambrose – 541 – 0
19 – Brian Vickers – 539 – 0
20 – Tony Stewart – 537 – 0



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Ron Thornton
Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.


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