By admin | July 9, 2010
By Richard Allen
Do not be fooled by what mathematics may lead you to believe. There are 36 races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. This is race number 19 so it should seem obvious that the teams, drivers and all others involved are entering the second half of the season. However, that is not necessarily the case.
If there is a Sprint Cup team out there making plans as if they are entering the second half of the season they are more than a little late to the party.
Since the inception of the Chase for the Championship in 2004, teams, drivers and all others have broken their racing seasons down a bit differently. The cutoff for the Chase playoff occurs after race number 26, which will take place in Richmond this September. So, for the purposes of planning to win a title teams must now break their seasons down into segments of 13-13-10.
The Chase for the Championship is a ten race playoff among the drivers positioned in the top-12 of the standings after the 26th race of the season.
The first 13 races of the year consist of those from Daytona to Charlotte. In those 13 races, teams attempt to position themselves for a strong second segment run to the Chase cutoff. Winning races, of course, is nice because doing so allows for points to be added once the Chase is made. But most of all in segment one, accumulating as many points as possible so as to be able to afford some sort of mishap in the next segment is key.
Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have become masters of this strategy which has led them to four consecutive titles. It has enabled them to build bonus points toward the final Chase segment and also affords them the opportunity to experiment a bit in getting ready for a championship run in the fall.
The second 13 race segment, which is currently in progress, is all about the haves keeping what they have and the have-nots trying to race their way into the top-12 before the Chase cutoff.
Currently, there are three drivers within 80 points of 12th place in the Sprint Cup standings. That amount can be overturned in one race.
Of course, the ultimate goal of every team and driver in the first two segments of the season is to qualify for the third and final segment which decides the series champion.
As can be seen, the NASCAR Sprint Cup season is divided by threes rather than twos. Over the course of the weekend it will no doubt be said that we have reached the halfway point of the season. Going purely by mathematics, that is true. However, dividing the season into halves does not really provide a true look at how the teams and drivers break it down.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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