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Pedley: Victories Are Priority No. 2 In The Chase

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 17 2010

Checks top checkers when it comes to racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

If it’s an argument you’re looking for, tell a Sprint Cup driver that his series is more about points racing than racing for victories. Then, step back, accept the blindfold and wait for the fusillade of indignation.

But judging just from the sounds emanating from driver interviews this week, points racing is exactly what the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship is about.

In racing, when competitors talk about using consistency as a strategy, they are generally talking about points racing. They are generally saying that their plan is to avoid really bad finishes – and the risk taking which often precipitates them – in order to not take big hits in championship point standings.

Race victories? Highly desirable, of course.  They are the foundation of a best case scenario for a team and a driver – win the individual races. First, because winning races feels the best. Second, because it pays the most points. Third, sells the most product.

But, in a playoff where so much depends on staying alive for 10 weeks, conservatism trumps liberalism. In racing series with playoffs – just like in football – defense wins championships.

In a playoff, rubbin’ means losin’.

Taking chances? Poking a nose in to gain a position? Banzai moves? Gambling? Only going to happen when things are really, really desperate.

Or, when the win gene kicks in (as it did for Carl Edwards at Kansas two years ago);  but, unfortunately, that gene has gone regressive as the stakes for winning championships have gone up.

So, over the next several weeks you are going hear driver after driver talk about how their game plan in the Chase is to be consistent.

Oh, make no mistake, they will weave clauses about how taking checkered flags is what racing is all about into their statements, but the word “consistency” will be rolling off tongues with numbing frequency.

Starting now, with such Chase drivers as:

Kyle Busch: “In order to win this championship and finish strong, you’re going to have to run well. Those 10 points that you’re going to get for a win to start this Chase off aren’t going to mean a whole lot when you finish 43rd two weeks in a row. It’s not going to do anything for you. You just have to build the consistency over the last 10 races.”

Tony Stewart: “I think consistency. You could go out and win four or five races, and have one bad day and lose the championship. With the fact that you can get 43rd-place points, that can kill you better than the wins can help you. All it takes is one bad day, and you’ve lost your opportunity to go to Vegas. It’s that simple. Until they give the 12 Chase drivers their own points structure, that’s the reality you have to face. If you have that one bad day, it’s going to eliminate you out of that possibility.”

Jeff Gordon: “Consistency has always been one of our strengths which is why I think the old points system worked well for us. And we’ll approach these 10 races with the same mindset. There are a lot of points to be gained and lost. You’re trying to win each race, but 10 races is longer than many people realize. You want to make sure you get the absolute best finish you can each week and not put yourself into a position where you end up with a 30th- or-35th-place finish.”

And, geez, even those who are not in the Chase are still talking points.

Ryan Newman: “We’re going to do our best in the next 10 races to get the most points of anyone in the Chase.”

Striving consistency and racing for points is smart. It is the only strategy to follow for drivers who want to win championships. Any team and driver who forsakes the strategy will – and probably should – lose their jobs.

No doubt about any of that.

And no, I am not lobbying for massive changes which would do more harm than good to a series that is as good it has ever been in terms of competition. I like the Chase. I like season championships. I like strategizing and heady racing.

But please, fellas, go easy on the indignance when somebody suggests that points are more important than victories to you during the Chase.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 17 2010
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