|Harvick has to start over when Chase begins|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 11 September 2010 15:46|
When the race ends, so will his reign as the points leader.
The 10-race Chase format jumbles the 12-driver field, and all points are reset and padded by the bonuses earned through victories. Regardless of where Harvick finished Saturday night, his 219-point lead over Jeff Gordon will evaporate and he won't be the leader headed into next week's Chase opener at New Hampshire.
Even if Harvick won Richmond, he'd at best be seeded third in the Chase standings, behind four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who went into Richmond with five wins each. Harvick started the race with three victories.
Based on how well he's been running, and his position as a favorite to dethrone Johnson, regaining the points lead should be no problem, right?
Well, history isn't exactly on his side.
Since the Chase began in 2004, the driver who held the points lead at the end of the regular season has only won the championship once. Tony Stewart did it in 2005, winning five races before the Chase began then wrapped up the title with seven top-10 finishes in the 10 Chase races.
Every other Chase failed to deliver a title to the dominant regular-season driver.
Jeff Gordon was up 60 points on the field in 2004, but finished third in the inaugural Chase, which was won by Kurt Busch. Matt Kenseth had a 57-point margin in 2006, but was beat by Johnson.
Gordon was again the loser in 2007 when his massive 312-point lead was erased and he finished second to Johnson, who also beat regular-season leaders Kyle Busch (up 207 points) and Stewart (179) the last two seasons.
It typically raises debate over NASCAR potentially rewarding the driver who is the points leader following the 26th race. The award could be points or monetary, but something should be done to recognize the team that emerged on top following the first 26 weeks of the season.
``It is hard to explain to the fans that you have 26 weeks and you get nothing for it,'' Harvick said recently. ``I don't know what's right and what's wrong. We all know the rules when we come in, so you just race by that system and see what happens.''
BIFFLE CLINCHES: It didn't take Greg Biffle very long to clinch his spot in the Chase.
Biffle went into Richmond needing only to finish 42nd or better to make the championship field, and he was guaranteed his spot when Jason Leffler pulled off the track 30 laps into Saturday night's race.
Leffler was a start-and-park ride, and assured Biffle of not finishing last.
OUT OF CONTENTION: Juan Pablo Montoya made his first Chase last season, but will be a spectator in the championship hunt this year.
Despite his failure in making the 12-driver Chase field, Montoya believes his team is stronger this year than it was last year.
``In a way it is frustrating because we didn't make the Chase,'' Montoya said. ``But it is satisfying because we are performing, and having the car up there every week means a lot.''
Because of early season bad luck and inconsistency, Montoya went into Saturday night's race ranked 17th in the standings and out of contention for a Chase berth. He has seven DNFs this year and seven finishes of 30th or worse.
But he's got a win this season, at Watkins Glen, and had four consecutive top-10s headed into Richmond.
``You look at last year and, yes, we made the Chase and everything, but we were nowhere near as competitive as where we are at right now,'' he said. ``We have like four or five top-10s in a row. We've been there every week. We had a win. Were there. Last year, we played the point game. At the end of the day to make the Chase, you have to score the points. We didn't score the points this year, but we had the results.''
It has Montoya confident he can get another win this season, and perhaps on an oval. His only two Cup wins in three-plus seasons came on road courses. But because he won't be racing for a championship, Montoya figures his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team can take more gambles.
``In a way, we can be a lot more aggressive on the car and the calls we make,'' Montoya said. ``We have been doing that lately and it has been working. We aren't afraid of making changes on the car because of thinking about points. Right now, we are here to race and we are here to try to win it and it has been working really well. I think for us, right now, it is more about getting our job done and just keep enjoying ourselves. Right now we are doing that and it is paying off.''
DRIVER CHANGE: Terry Labonte replaced Mike Bliss in the No. 55 Toyota for Saturday night's race at Richmond.
Labonte failed to qualify in what would have been his debut race with Stavola Labonte Racing. Playing into him not qualifying was that his younger brother, Bobby, didn't make the field on speed and had to use the past champion's provisional to get his car into the race.
Terry Labonte then worked a deal with Prism Motorsports to drive that car. His crew spent Saturday making the car race-ready and affixing the decals of sponsor Gander Mountain on the car.