March 01, 2011
Given that we're two races into the season, it may seem a bit ridiculous to talk about points. Heck, Kevin Harvick even tried to tell everyone that after he blew an engine at Daytona and finished 42nd.
But with the new points system, it's not ridiculous to talk about points, even though it's so early in the season that you can count on one hand the number of times that Carl Edwards has invoked Subway. (OK, maybe that's an exaggeration.)
Points leader Kyle Busch has 80 points after the first two weeks. Jeff Burton and David Reutimann have 27 apiece while Joey Logano has 32 and Greg Biffle has 33. Are their Chase chances already kaput?
Under the old points system, last place paid 34 points, approximately 17.9 percent of the points that the winner got, assuming that the race winner didn't lead the most laps. This year with the 47-1 points system, the last-place car gets approximately 2.18 percent of the points that the winner does, again assuming that the winner didn't lead the most laps. Because of that drastic dropoff, DNFs are going to hurt considerably more, and thus, be harder to recover from.
In the first seven years of the Chase, 14 drivers (out of a possible 78) have made the Chase after being outside the top 20 in the points standings after the first two races of the season. Biffle's 28th, Logano's 29th, and Burton and Vickers are tied for 32nd. Biffle's average finish has been 27.5, Logano's has been 28th, and Burton and Vickers' has been 30.5
With that old points system -- where bad finishes hurt less percentage-wise -- four drivers have had average finishes in the 30s in the first two races and still made the Chase. Matt Kenseth's average finish in the first two races was approximately 34 in 2005, Martin Truex Jr.'s was 33 in 2006, Ryan Newman's average finish in 2009 was 32.5 and Mark Martin's average finish in that year was a whopping 38.5.
Of course that doesn't mean we can write off Burton and Vickers -- after all, on average, two drivers a year come from outside the top 20 after the first two races to make the Chase -- but the odds certainly aren't in their favor.
Conversely, Busch has to like his odds of making the Chase. Only once in the seven years of the Chase has the points leader at this point in the season missed the Chase. That was Matt Kenseth in 2009. (Mark Martin was leading the points after the first two races of 2007, but he wasn't running the full season, so for the purposes of this exercise he doesn't count. Jeff Burton was in second place, five points behind Martin, and he made the Chase.)
After the jump, the full list of drivers outside the top 20 after two races to come back and make the Chase.
2004: Mark Martin (161 points, average finish: ~28)
2005: Matt Kenseth (124, ~34), Jeremy Mayfield (183, ~24)
2007: Carl Edwards (170, ~26), Tony Stewart (147, ~30), Martin Truex Jr. (128, ~33)
2010: Jeff Gordon (198, ~21), Denny Hamlin (198, ~21)
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