Some NASCAR drivers in deep hole in new system


Riding With...Dave Blaney

Last week: The Hartford native had his best performance of the 2011 Sprint Cup season, finishing 25th in the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Season to date: Blaney moved up one position, to 34th place, in the Sprint Cup standings with 51 points. He’s just one point behind Casey Mears for 33rd place.

This weekend: NASCAR’s top series heads to Fontana, Calif., for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Fox will televise the race beginning at 2:30 p.m.

Staff report/Associated Press

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Having Kevin Harvick lead two teammates into NASCAR’s Chase for the championship last year left team owner Richard Childress optimistic that one of his drivers could win the Sprint Cup title in 2011.

But the first month of the season has been rough for Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, who are both stuck at the wrong end of the Sprint Cup Series standings. They should be able to improve on their positions — Bowyer is 24th and Burton is tied for 29th heading into Sunday’s race at California — but it’s unclear if NASCAR’s new scoring system is forgiving enough to give either a shot at rallying for a berth in the Chase.

NASCAR scrapped the scoring system it used since 1975 before this season in favor of a simplified method that awards straight points based on finishing position. The new 43-to-1 system rewards consistency and punishes poor finishes.

While Harvick sits 15th in the standings with 110 points, Burton has 74 after finishing a season-best 20th at Bristol last weekend and finds himself tied with Joey Logano, another popular pick for the Chase who is struggling. Series leader Kurt Busch has 150, and only 27 points separate the top-10 in the standings.

“We’re in a deep hole, there’s no denying that, end of story,” Burton said. “The way you get out of that? You’re not going to wiggle your nose and magic happens. You’ve just got to go to work and you’ve got to make it happen.”

The tried-and-true method of knocking down strong finishes to climb through the standings could still work.

Greg Biffle was in precarious position last week, ranked 32nd in the standings before Bristol and openly worried about falling below the top-35 mark that guarantees a driver a spot in the field. Then he finished eighth at Bristol and jumped all the way to 23rd in points.

But there are plenty of crew chiefs who have feverishly run the math and figured out what their driver must do to earn a spot in the 12-driver Chase field. The first 10 spots this year will go to the top-10 in points, with the final two “wild-cards” earmarked for the winningest drivers not already qualified. Those two drivers, though, must be in the top-20 in points.

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