Zero wins trump four wins in Cup Chase

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
10:56
AM ET

We've reached an interesting point in the season.

Four wins versus no wins? Advantage: no wins.

Analyzing the new points system prior to the season, it became obvious that this new format did less to reward good finishes and more to punish poor ones. The three-point bonus for winning races is nice, but I'd be game for upping that to five points, meaning a maximum of 50 points instead of the current 48.

Edwards is having a legendary Chase, challenging Jimmie Johnson's mark for the best average finish in a playoff, but he's doing it with consistency, not checkered flags.

Do you remember Edwards' lone win this season? Allow me to refresh your memory, as that's sort of my job.

Back on March 6, Tony Stewart dominated at Las Vegas but took four tires on the final stop and dropped from first to third. Carl Edwards took two and won the race by 1.2 seconds over Stewart.

Had Stewart been able to pass Edwards, or had he played a different pit strategy, he might be looking at a three-point lead instead of a three-point deficit.

But that's playing the what-if game, and I'm here to play that what-is game! And then maybe some Hungry, Hungry Hippos!

Mr. Consistency

There are worse things in the world to be than consistent. But some people equate consistency with boring, and that shouldn't be the case.

Edwards has a 5.6 average finish in the Chase, opposed to 7.4 for Stewart. Of the seven previous Chase champions, only one of them finished the Chase with an average finish better than Edwards' mark -- Johnson's unreal 2007 season, when he finished with a 5.0.

Trivia break! What is Edwards' worst finish in the 2011 Chase?

Four for the road

Before this year, every Chase record belonged to Johnson, and most still do. But now Stewart has wedged his name alongside the defending five-time champion's.

Those two are the only drivers to have won four races in a single Chase, and Stewart still gets two more shots to leave Johnson in the dust.

Of course, Johnson has won four races in a Chase three times -- Stewart's on his first.

Trivia break! Who is the only other driver besides Johnson and Stewart to win as many as three races in a Chase?

Magic number

This entry is brought to you by the No. 10.

Stewart now has 10 Chase wins. He's just the second driver to reach that mark, trailing Johnson's 20.

Ten also is the number of wins Stewart has as an owner/driver. He's the eighth driver to reach that mark. Of the previous seven, only one has won a Cup race after 1965, the legendary Richard Petty.

Trivia break! How many of the other six owner/drivers with at least 10 wins can you name?

Power rankings

I wanted to come up with something to rank the strength of the Chase drivers on a race-by-race basis. So I devised a nerdy formula, using recent performance, along with recent results at the respective track, to predict who'll be strong in the next race, and the next race only.

Here are my Chase power rankings for Phoenix:

1. Tony Stewart
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Kyle Busch
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Carl Edwards
7. Ryan Newman
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Kurt Busch
10. Denny Hamlin
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
12. Brad Keselowski

Trivia break answers

1. Edwards finished 11th at Talladega, his worst mark so far.

2. Edwards won three Chase races in 2008.

3. Besides Stewart and Richard Petty: Lee Petty, Herb Thomas, Rex White, Jack Smith, Buck Baker and Junior Johnson.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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