With four different winners in the first four races of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, it has become fashionable to fantasize about the possibility of 16 winners (or more) in the 26-race regular season.
Under NASCAR’s newly revised 2014 championship system, a victory in the first 26 races all-but guarantees a berth in the Chase. Emphasis on the “all but.”
Following Race 26 at Richmond International Raceway, the top 15 drivers with wins in the regular season earn automatic spots in the NASCAR Chase Grid, provided they have finished in the Top-30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race. The 16th Chase position is reserved for a winless point leader – if necessary – but if there are 16 or more different regular season winners, only that point leader will earn a berth in the Chase with out winning.
The prospect of 16 winners... or 18, or 20… is obviously appealing to NASCAR fans. Unfortunately, it is not likely to happen.
In each of the last three seasons, four different faces have visited Victory Lane in the opening four weeks. Despite that, in the decade since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was instituted, there has never been more than 15 regular-season winners. Ina fast start seldom – if ever – lasts.
"There's been a lot of talk about it," said Bristol winner Carl Edwards Sunday. "I've been listening to the radio guys a lot, and everybody is assuming that `You win and you're in.’ That's definitely not the case.
|"We need to go get another win"|
We have 12 more races (in the regular season), and the first step is you have to win. You're going to have to have a win, I believe, to be in the Chase. So now that we've checked that box, we need to go get another win.
Then we will be guaranteed to be in it."
Edwards’ “go get another one” attitude is good news for NASCAR fans. If the first four races of the 2014 season have shown us anything, it’s that a driver in need of a win will do just about anything (within the law) to get one. We have also learned that a driver with a victory already in hand will kick his momma in the backside to get another one.
"I've been a little bit jealous of guys that have wins this early," said Edwards in Victory Lane. "I was thinking today, `I can't imagine what that must feel like to be able to come to a race track and have all that pressure off of you.’”
Now, Edwards knows how it feels. And that knowledge will make him a better, more aggressive driver in the days and weeks to come.
“Now we'll be able to go have some fun,” smiled Edwards Sunday. “I'm really excited about the next 22 races. That will be a blast."
Greed is a powerful motivator, and desperation produces great racing. Hungry race car drivers sell tickets and boost television ratings.
As the number of 2014 winners increases, the number of drivers with nothing to lose – and every reason to take chances and roll the dice – also increases. At some point in this regular season, eight or 10 of NASCAR’s top wheelmen will find themselves solidly in the win column; ready, willing and able to gamble on every turn of the cards in an effort to win again and again.
That could result in additional wins for the risk-takers, or backfire in their faces and send even more first-time winners to Victory Lane.
That’s the fun part about gambling. You never really know how it’s going to turn out.