So this is what NASCAR’s new points system has led to.
Wrecks, wrecks and more wrecks.
Big wrecks, little wrecks and massive pileups.
And now, under NASCAR’s new, tighter points system, a wreck not only ruins a race for those involved, but it could wreck the championship hopes for some.
The first two Sprint Cup races of the season have been crash-marred affairs. The Daytona 500 featured a record 16 caution flags, 14 of them for wrecks, including a massive 14-car melee early in the race that took out top contenders such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle.
Big crashes are expected in restrictor-plate races, but what occurred at the flat, one-mile Phoenix International Raceway was totally unexpected.
Sixty laps into the race, a six-car crash took out polesitter Carl Edwards, contender Jeff Burton and others. Less than 10 laps later, another 13-car crash occurred, collecting Burton (again), Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and others.
What the heck is going on with NASCAR’s top drivers? Why all the wrecking so early in races and so early in the season?
Why are NASCAR’s top drivers all of a sudden driving like “idiots,” as Bowyer said after getting caught up in the early crash at Phoenix.
A big reason could be NASCAR’s new 43-to-1 points system, which makes top finishes even more valuable and heavily penalizes drivers and teams for DNFs and poor finishes.
Burton, Reutimann and Vickers are prime examples.
Reutimann and Vickers were both caught up in the multicar crashes at both Daytona and Phoenix. As a result, they are 31st and 33rd, respectively, in points after two races.
Not everyone can finish the race. Take a look at drivers who've crashed out so far.
Burton blew an engine at Daytona and got caught in the big crash at Phoenix. He sits 32nd in points.
Perhaps, more importantly, they already have fallen more than 50 points behind points leader Kyle Busch.
That doesn’t sound like much, and under the old points system, it wasn’t. One good run could put you right back in the hunt.
But under the new system, they basically are already one race behind. To catch Busch, they essentially need to win a race and/or hope that Busch has a couple of bad races of his own.
More importantly, they can’t afford many more poor finishes or they may quickly fall far enough behind to put them out of Chase for the Sprint Cup contention.
While some drivers rallied from poor starts last year to make the Chase, others did not. After two races last year, Ryan Newman was 36th in points, Kasey Kahne was 33rd and Juan Pablo Montoya was 23rd. All three missed the Chase after making it in 2009.
And it was easier to make up ground under the old system than it is now.
Burton says that’s how they got themselves into trouble to begin with.
“It is early in the year and everybody is trying to get what they can,” Burton said.
Asked after his Phoenix wreck if drivers were pushing too hard to make up for lost points at Daytona, Burton said, “We are certainly in that group.”
Other Chase contenders who are in early season holes are Bowyer (21st in points), Kevin Harvick (22nd), Matt Kenseth (23rd), McMurray (26th), Biffle (28th) and Joey Logano (29th).
All were considered legitimate Chase contenders, but must rally from early season setbacks to get back on track.
How much of a factor is the new points system on the demolition derbies we have seen in the first two races? It’s hard to say. Other drivers attribute the wrecks to the new rules at Daytona, the difficulty in passing at Phoenix, double-file restarts (always a popular culprit), increased competition and just sheer stupidity.
That could lead to even more aggressive driving and more wrecks as the season goes along.
Bowyer, for one, sure hopes not. He, too, has been in two wrecks in two races.
“They were driving like it was the last lap,” he said of last week’s wreck at Phoenix. “Man, if we keep this up, we’ll only have about four cars to end all these races.”
With points at a premium and some big-name drivers already in trouble, expect the carnage to continue.