For most of the last four years, Jimmie Johnson has so thoroughly dominated the Chase for the Cup that it's been almost pointless to consider any other competitor seriously. But in 2010, Johnson isn't hitting the Chase with quite the momentum he's had in the past -- and that opens the door ever so slightly for that most dreaded of scenarios: winning the Chase without winning the race! (Cue the dramatic prairie dog!)
It's certainly possible, obviously. Run in the top 5 long enough while everyone around you falls off, and hey, you might just leave Homestead with a brand-new trophy. For instance, nobody in NASCAR is running more consistently right now than Carl Edwards. But Cousin Carl hasn't won a single race. Moreover, he's only led six -- yes, six -- laps all season. And yet, if everything breaks right, he could be in position to win it all.
Jeff Gordon discussed this exact topic at Friday's media session in Bristol. "The problem that I see [in winning the Chase without winning a race] right now is when they start the Chase, guys that haven't won a race are going to be at least 50 points down to start the Chase ... So I think the only way you can overcome those is you're going to have to win in the Chase."
Thing is, for Gordon, that sets up an entirely new potential strategy. "Consistency is still key, but I'm almost wondering right now if it's more important to win during the regular season than it is in the Chase," he said. "Get the bonus points to get yourself seeded where you really need to, to get that advantage going into the Chase and then knock-out your top five's throughout the Chase and win it that way."
Of course, let's not get crazy here; if Gordon -- ranked second and running better than plenty of guys who have won lots of races -- took the Cup without winning the race, he wouldn't turn it down.
"I'll be fine winning the championship without winning a single race," he said. "I'll take pride in it, absolutely. You win it however you win it, you know? The best team is going to win the championship, however that is. I've been a part of the sport long enough to know that under the old points system you couldn't have failures. But you could win a championship because of somebody else's failures, engine failures or tire problems. And so do you want to win a championship that way? Not necessarily, but you'll take it. Do I want to win the championship without having a win? No. But I'll still take it and take it proudly."
No doubt this will set off plenty of "the Chase needs to go!" screaming. But if anybody deserves to take advantage of the Chase format, it's Gordon, who was flat-out robbed in 2007 when the points got reset. Will he win a race this season? Here's betting yes -- and here's betting he's in the Cup conversation right through November.