It's already been one of the most competitive seasons in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. With seven different winners over the first 10 races, and 10 different winners over the first 13, the 2014 season has provided as much unpredictability as it has excitement with the new changes and formats.
The new qualifying format has amped up Fridays this season. With multiple rounds in a knockout-style, drivers are being pushed to the test and the action has intensified.
"Knockout qualifying is just an emotional roller-coaster, from not making it into the top 12 and having to go back out and bump your way in and then being on the pole," said Jamie McMurray, who won the pole in last week's race at Sonoma Raceway. "There are a lot of highs and lows that go with it. It's real cool for us to kind of get bumped out and then come back and win the pole."
The intensity should pick up at New Hampshire, too, where track position is of the utmost importance.
In With A Win
While the Chase itself has undergone a serious facelift (we'll talk more about that when we get ready for the SYLVANIA 300 in September), the way to get into the Chase has become easier to figure out (from a fan's perspective) yet much harder to get in (from a driver's).
Increasing the number of drivers that make the Chase from 12 to 16, NASCAR has put an emphasis on the primary way drivers make the Chase. All race winners during the 26-race regular season will make the Chase. Should there be more than 16 winners, ties would be broken by points. If fewer, the drivers without a victory but with the highest points standing would advance to the Chase. The points leader at the end of the regular season will also be guaranteed a spot in the Chase, regardless of whether they have won a race or not.
Right now, it's a virtual lock for multiple-race winners like Jimmie Johnson (three wins), Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano. But that leaves the door open for a number of other drivers to still get into the postseason tournament.
And with New Hampshire's recent history of 12 different drivers winning the last 12 races, anyone could find their way to Victory Lane on Sunday, July 13.
Which begs the question …
Big names that have yet to win a race this year include Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart. Ironically, all six have won races at New Hampshire over the last six years.
That should give all those drivers a confidence heading into New Hampshire, but all drivers know the importance a single win can make in either riding strong or riding along come Chase time.