One race. That's all it takes to completely derail your chances at a Sprint Cup championship. One race.
When NASCAR resets the points for the Chase to the Cup in a few weeks, the sport's best drivers will be separated by only a handful of points. You know this. And since the points directly correlate to finishing position, a driver can find himself 30 or more points off the lead in just one race. You know this, too.
But knowing and feeling are two different things, and on Sunday, fans of Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin felt the gut-punch of realizing just how fragile a lead can be.
Edwards held a share of the points lead until engine troubles dropped him all the way to 36th. Hamlin remains on the knife-edge of the wild card, but he finished 35th after brushing the wall. And saying Busch was the best of the bunch is damning with very faint praise; he had a tire blow out and finished 34th.
Three near- or past champions, three legit Cup contenders, three mid-30s finishes. Sure, it's only one race. But all three dropped two positions. And if something like that happened early in the Chase? One race in, and the gap could be too high to overcome.
As a journalist and a fan of the sport, I love the week-to-week, every-race-could-end-your-hopes drama. If I were a fan of one of the guys whose hopes get dashed in a single afternoon, though, I imagine I'd be pretty down on the Chase, too. (And yes, I did have a rooting interest before I became a NASCAR writer, and yes, he's still racing. That's all you get from me for now.)
So, anyway. Not trying to freak you out, Edwards/Busch/Hamlin fans. But hey, it's worth remembering. Does this make you appreciate the Chase ... or fear it?