Gazing Into A Crystal Ball

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards predicts there will be more than 16 different winners by Richmond in September. (Photo: Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - It’s getting ahead of everything, no doubt, but what if it happened, how might it change things? Especially with the new way of qualifying for the Chase.

This season has started with five different winners in the first five races. The chances seem good that there could be a sixth different winner after Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway since track stalwarts Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin have yet to win this season.

The last time a NASCAR Sprint Cup season opened with six different winners was 2003 when the first nine races each had a different winner. There were 16 different winners that year after the Richmond fall race.

NASCAR’s new Chase will have 16 drivers this year. Victories open the pathway to the championship. If there aren’t 16 different winners after the fall Richmond race, then those highest in the points without a victory get in. Should there be more than 16 winners, then points will determine who makes the Chase.

“I hope that we don’t really get to that situation,’’ Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “You would like to not have to worry about it. The whole process of going through Daytona and winning and feeling like we were in was a great feeling.                

“Having to fall back into that mode of concentrating on your points position, your track position, maximizing every race to get the most points, that is a bit of a burden.

“If we get into about the 12th or 13th week and we still don’t have a two-time winner in the season, I think guys are going to start to change the way they think about points. I don’t think the racing changes. I don’t think the competition and the product changes. I just think guys pay a little more attention, and if you were at all careless, you will be shoring up all that stuff so you are not making mistakes out on the racetrack.  The pressure will rise for sure.”

Points leader Carl Edwards predicts there will be more than 16 different winners by Richmond, thus the scenario Earnhardt hopes to avoid could become reality. If everyone who won a race last season wins at least one this year, that would be 13 more drivers with victories, although two of those drivers who won last year scored their victory in the Chase.

Still, it could be easy to see 16 drivers winning a race by Richmond unless a couple of drivers start collecting trophies. For now, though, Edwards won’t fret about what could be.

“It’s not just the win that has us feeling like we can be aggressive, it’s our points position,’’ Edwards said. “If we were 20th in points right now, we would feel a lot different, so if we were to have trouble the next couple weeks and fall in points, we would go back to racing just slightly more conservatively, so that we didn’t fall any farther. But I feel like if we can go another month or month-and-a-half and we’re still leading the points or close, I feel like we’ll be locked in. 

“The easiest way for us though is to just go win (another) race, so, right now, we’re going to go for it and try to get that win while we have the points to lose.” 

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