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Monday, October 31, 2011
Updated: November 2, 2:13 AM ET
Tony Stewart deserves Chase lead

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Tony Stewart should be leading the Chase standings, not Carl Edwards.

Nothing against Edwards. He has played the system to perfection and has done what he needs to do. But this is wrong, and I would say the same thing if the situation were reversed.

Edwards started the Chase three points ahead of Stewart, thanks to one regular-season victory to none for Stewart.

Seven races into the 10-race playoff, Stewart has won three times in the Chase and Edwards is winless. But Edwards has an eight-point lead over Stewart heading to Texas.

Carl Edwards
Tony Stewart, top, has three Chase wins to zero for Carl Edwards, yet Smoke still trails Edwards by eight points in the standings.

Huh?

"We all have the attitude that we feel we should be leading right now,'' said Darian Grubb, Stewart's crew chief, after the victory at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. "We made mistakes that gave up points there in the third and fourth [Chase] race. We're ready to get back in this game and show everybody what we've got left."

This new, simpler points system in NASCAR was the right thing to do. It's a big success, hands down. But it still has one major flaw -- not enough points for winning.

Edwards leads the standings because his average finish in the Chase races is 6.1. He has finished 11th or better in all seven races.

Stewart has an average playoff finish of 8.3 -- not too shabby. Stewart has five finishes of eighth or better (including his three wins), but he was 25th at Dover and 15th at Kansas. So he's five points further behind Edwards now than he was when the Chase started.

Sorry, that doesn't work for me. The guy who is winning races is the driver who deserves to be on top. The man who is going all out and taking chances is the one I want to see as the champion if he's going to Victory Lane.

That's what Stewart has done the past two races. That isn't what Edwards did at Talladega, and he didn't have a car worthy of challenging for a victory Sunday at Martinsville.

Again, I don't fault Edwards or the No. 99 Ford team. If I were in his position, knowing how this points system works, I would have done the same thing. The lack of emphasis on winning forces the points leader to race conservatively.

And that's the problem. NASCAR took a major step forward this season to get more drivers to go for wins with the wild-card format, basing the final two Chase spots on victories instead of points.

But that incentive is gone once the playoff starts. It's back to playing it safe.

Consider how the standings would look if five more points were awarded for each victory. Stewart would lead Edwards by seven points with three races remaining. That sounds a lot more reasonable to me.

Maybe this all will work out in the end. Maybe Stewart will catch Edwards in the next three races. Maybe Edwards will win two of the last three races -- tracks where he has won in the past -- to win the crown and none of this will matter.

Then again, maybe it won't. Stewart could finish fifth at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead while Edwards finishes seventh in all three races (with neither man leading a lap) and Edwards would win the title by two points.

That means Stewart would finish ahead of Edwards in seven of 10 playoff races (including a 3-0 advantage in victories) but still lose the title.

It could be worse. Stewart could go 4-0 in Chase victories over Edwards and still fall short.

Stewart could win at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday and lead the most laps, but if Edwards finishes second and leads a lap, it's possible he could finish one spot behind Stewart in the last two races and still win the championship.

If a guy wins four races in the playoff and no other Chaser wins more than one, the driver posting victories deserves the title.

I know what some of you will say. What if the driver who won four times also finished 30th or worse in four other Chase races?

Give me the guy who won races over the guy who didn't win but finished eighth every week. Granted, my plan of five more points for winning wouldn't help Stewart if that happened, and that would be a shame.

Look at it like this: An NFL team wins 12 regular-season games, three more than any other team in its division, but the 12-win team also lost by 30 points or more in all four losses.

So. Who cares? They won 12 games. That's all that matters.

I'm all for consistency in racing. It has its place because it shows a team excels under adverse conditions, which Edwards did Sunday by finishing ninth with a bad car at one of his worst tracks.

"We didn't deserve to finish ninth," Edwards said after the race. "It's unreal. We were so bad. Probably 200 laps to go, I was thinking, 'OK, the [St. Louis] Cardinals didn't give up the other night, that's a little motivation. The Missouri Tigers didn't give up the other night, that's motivation.''

The effort of Edwards' team deserves praise, but Edwards doesn't deserve to be the points leader.

Stewart does. In this case, consistency shouldn't trump winning in a playoff situation.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.