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This new championship points system has certainly tightened things up....but will the eventual NASCAR champion be legit, or a fluke?

  Kurt Busch, winning Dover, over 'arch-nemesis' Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   DOVER, Del.
   It was another topsy-turvy Sunday in the NASCAR playoffs, and Tony Stewart is no longer atop the standings…and Jeff Gordon is scratching his head too about what all went wrong in Round Three of the chase, at Dover International Speedway.

   Carl Edwards, now atop the Sprint Cup playoff standings heading this week to Kansas City, says this 10-race chase is probably going to go to the man who makes the fewest mistakes, rather than the guy who knocks the most home runs.
   "My buddy Carl Fredrickson has this book at his house, and it says you don't succeed by being the guy that does everything perfect…you succeed by being the guy that minimizes the mistakes…because everyone is going to make mistakes," Edwards said after rallying back to finish third in Sunday's Dover 400.
   Edwards' mistake here was speeding on pit road, while he was dominating the race. "They are very difficult to get over," Edwards conceded of such mistakes. "We were were fortunate.  We finished up front; we didn't cost ourselves a ton of points…but we're race car drivers, and  we're going to think about what we did wrong and try not to do it again.
   "But it seems like as soon as you've got everything figured out, you start forgetting things you remembered a long time ago and start making the same mistakes over again."


Kurt Busch celebrates a big win (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    If there is a real good pattern to these playoffs, it hasn't been all that obvious so far.
   Take Gordon, for example. He's opened the chase with problems in all three races.
   And yet he's going into Round Four only 19 points – essentially just 19 finishing positions – down.
   If this were the playoff standings coming out of Phoenix, then the Homestead finale would kick off with nine men having great shots at the title.
   Only Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin appear completely out of it.
   That may take all these drivers and crews a day or two to realize, and for that to sink in.
   This new NASCAR point system is still a big unknown to everyone in the sport.
   And whether or not it will accurately determine a legitimate NASCAR champion, when it's all over, well, that's anybody's guess right now.

   "It's been a struggle for us at this track this year," Gordon said painfully, after struggling to salvage a 12th on a bad afternoon.
   "It's like there is no air in the front tires for the first eight laps. So we just don't have any speed to take off. Then once we get going we've got a great race car."
   Of course it would likely have helped Gordon to have qualified better than 34th.
   "But once we got up there, I made some mistakes…and we just didn't have it on the restarts," Gordon said.
   "We've just got to run better than that."
    As weird as the new points system is, it's hard to judge who's still in and who's almost out. Well, except for Denny Hamlin, long out of it. And probably Dale Earnhardt Jr. and now Ryan Newman too. They all had bad days.
   "Kansas (the next stop, next weekend) is a great track for us, and I can't wait to get there," Gordon says. "If we can run the way we ran there earlier in the year, we'll make up a bunch of those points that we lost.
     "I knew it was going to be tough here. It doesn't matter how good your race car is  -- well, unless you're Carl Edwards – you've got to have (track) position here.
    "So it was a struggle. We finished 12th  , we salvaged something out of it. It could have been a lot worse…"


Carl Edwards (L) and crew chief Bob Osborne: Just how much did that pit road speeding penalty cost them in Sunday's Dover 400? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    So that's three straight off-days to start the chase.
    "I knew this was going to be a struggle for us," Gordon went on. "Chicago was a big surprise for us (running out of gas). Had we finished good in Chicago, and then had the run we had in New Hampshire, and then came here and had a 12th place finish, I'd be feeling pretty good about it.
    "We have to perform better."

    Tony Stewart too.
    What was off, Tony?
   "Just the whole package," he grumbled. "Even when we got the balance half-way decent, it didn't have speed. So we just missed it."
    Still, he's just nine finishing positions out of the points lead.
    "We've got seven weeks to worry about it," Stewart replied.

   Dale Earnhardt Jr. had mechanical problems, took time for repairs, but never challenged, finishing a woeful 24th.
   "I have had a lot of stuff happen to me over the years, good and bad, and you just have to roll with the punches," Earnhardt said.
   "I don't think I am BS-ing myself when I think we brought a good car to the track. We improved it from practice, we kind of went toward where Jimmie was.
    "But I really have a hard time with this place lately and need to get something figured out here."
   First he suffered a broken sway bar, then a loose wheel.
   "They fixed it really quick," Earnhardt said of the sway bar. "Then the caution came out and saved us; we were able to fix it and lose only one lap. Then we raced our way into the lucky dog and got the next caution. It was a bunch of luck right there, pure luck, to get that lap back."
    Then the loose wheel.
    "We had a pretty good car, and ran well, and we didn't do anything stupid," Earnhardt summed it up. "We just got snake-bit."

   Matt Kenseth knows that feeling. He was running top-three, had a great shot to win, but on the last round of pit stops he took four tires while the top eight runners took only two. That put Kenseth back in the pack and he never challenged again. Still Kenseth did pull off a fifth.
   "We needed four tires to get the (chassis) adjustment in it," Kenseth explained. "But with the way these conditions are when you come out back there, you know you're not going to have a chance.
    "On one run we ran down Jimmie Johnson, and at that point we were good enough to win. But the rest of the runs we weren't good enough to win. Jimmie was just dominant. And Kurt Busch got real good there on short runs toward the end.
    "We got off about three runs from the end and never quite got it back, for some reason."


    To the winner goes the confetti (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Ho Hum but new points system keeping it close

Hey, I heard they had a race and folks didn't run out of gas. The ground did feel colder this afternoon.....There was some suspense and a few passes so I only slept an hour during this one. So is Johnson still out of it? The new points system is keeping my interest for now.

Its been a fluke since day

Its been a fluke since day one,the chase sucks,just look at camping world series points, thay dont have a chase !BZF brain child !!

points and chase

It will anger all those who take every opportunity to attack Brian France, but I think the wild-card and the new points system is working very well.

I didn't see any great difference between the old points system and the new one. It seemed the gaps were essentially the same, we just used smaller numbers. I thought that there should be several plateaus, and should only be awarded to 32nd place.

But the points races we've got is very exciting. I regret that we had to reset everything at the start of the chase, but the battle will be fun to watch.

Picking a winner

The two drivers with a possibility of getting on a roll and blowing everyone else away are Jimmie and Kyle. Neither of them can afford another disastrous race, though.
The drivers that are most likely to beat themselves because of their edgy personalities are the Busch brothers and Harvick. The coolest heads are probably Gordon, Johnson and Kenseth.
But this year, with gas mileage playing such an important and frequent roll, it is hard to pick a winner based upon team performance.
Roll the dice and see who wins.

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