Column: Wins now mean everything in NASCAR

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 3, 2014 at 2:42 pm •  Published: March 3, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Joey Logano lined up directly behind Kevin Harvick and followed him nose-to-tail around the track and across the line for the final restart. He was stalking the leader, looking for what he knew would be his only chance to snatch the victory away from Harvick.

Logano aggressively darted inside of Harvick and briefly flirted with making it a three-wide race before he ran out of real estate at Phoenix International Raceway. The move didn't work, but he had to go for it Sunday.

Under NASCAR's new emphasis on winning, there was little upside to Logano staying put those final nine laps.

"It's all about the win, right?" said Logano, who was third on the final restart and settled for fourth. "Third place really doesn't mean anything. Last year, you may have taken a third place and the points, but this year it's like, 'Hey, go for it.'"

NASCAR Chairman Brian France had grown to despise points racing — that practice of a driver taking few risks in the closing laps of a race, settling for a solid finish, thanking a long list of sponsors and the boys back at the shop, then exulting on live television about the great points finish.

Points racing was already in his cross-hairs last March, when feuding drivers Logano and Denny Hamlin refused to give an inch as they raced for the win at California. Their stubbornness led to a wreck that took them both out of contention on the final lap, and France was hooked.

He wanted drivers to race with that same passion and desire every week, and for wins to matter that much.

So France overhauled the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format, and a regular-season victory virtually guarantees race winners a spot in the 16-driver field. It raised the stakes a week ago at the end of an already frantic Daytona 500, and winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. reveled in his post-race celebration about not having to spend the next six months of the season worrying about the postseason.

"If everybody is telling the truth, we've won a race, we should be in it, so I'm not going to worry about it," he laughed.

Harvick secured the same fate on Sunday by holding off four separate challenges over the final 40 laps to preserve the victory in a race he dominated. As he celebrated in Victory Lane with his new Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, he was greeted by new team owner Gene Haas, who seemed bewildered by the consequences of Harvick's win.

"The points aren't nearly as important as the wins," he said in an almost questioning tone. "We're talking about the Chase already."

Indeed, in the second race of the season, we're talking about the Chase already. So much so that Brad Keselowski, who has a pair of third-place finishes to start the season and is a mere six points out of the Sprint Cup Series points lead, isn't stoked about what he's left on the table.

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