Time On Their Side

Mike Wallace is currently 36th in the NEXTEL Cup point standings, but if the season ended next week in Bristol he'd only be thirteen points away from qualifying for the "Chase for the Championship."

Bobby Labonte is 37th, but he only needs to make up 30 points to make the post-season.

And even after his dismal start to the year, Robby Gordon just needs to erase a 115 point deficit and he'd be going to the big dance.

Obviously the season still has a long way to go before the cut-off to qualify for the "Chase," but the point is with the 400 point rule, meaning drivers need only be within 400 markers of the leader to make the playoffs, hope is not lost.

There are some high profile guys wallowing in the lower depths of the championship standings these days including the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (26th), Michael Waltrip (27th), Kasey Kahne (28th) and Matt Kenseth (31st). But I don't think these drivers, teams or their fans need to panic with only four races in the book.

In year two of "The Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" format, I predict the 400 point rule will go into effect. In addition to the Top 10 locking into the playoff run, I'd look for five or six additional drivers to make the cut based on the 400 marker stipulation.

"I'm still not worried about the point situation even with the new format," said Kenseth, who got caught up in trouble at Atlanta last weekend to finish 31st. "We just have to get some runs together and start getting some good finishes."

Making up ground won't be easy, but it's certainly something top tier teams can accomplish. While the first four races have been a mixed bag of excitement (Atlanta and Daytona yes; Fontana and Las Vegas, not so much), the competition and intensity seems to be up several notches than a year ago.

Teams have figured out after having a year of the new format under their belts, that points gained in the early part of the season are just as important as the ones in August and September. Why scramble at Richmond to make the cut when good runs in March and April can make things a lot less stressful?

It hasn't worked out that way for a number of drivers many expected to compete for the title, at least in the first two months of the year. But it's foolish to write anyone off on Easter weekend.

Let's wait until Labor Day before we see who has really laid an egg.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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