NASCAR’s new point system is designed to put more emphasis on winning races and that may have been a huge factor in the crazy ending to the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas motor speedway.
Under the new system there will be 16 drivers (up from 12) in the Chase for the Cup at the end of the season with 15 spots reserved for the top 15 drivers that have won one of the first 26 races of the year.
In Las Vegas on Sunday, with just over a half-lap remaining, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas which allowed Brad Keselowski to pass him for the win.
What made the ending crazy was that Earnhardt’s crew predicted the exact moment he would run out of gas (see video below).
With 13 laps remaining, Earnhardt’s crew could be heard telling their driver that he was “about three-quarters of a lap short [on gas].” Instead of pulling the car in for a splash of gas, the team gambled and left Earnhardt on the track for a chance to win.
Sure enough, in turn two of the final lap, the no. 88 car sputtered and Junior was out of gas. He held on to finish second.
While Earnhardt may have made the same gamble under the old points system, it was less of a gamble under the new system. With a win at the Daytona 500, Earnhardt is nearly guaranteed to be in the 10-race chase for the Sprint Cup at the end of the season and there was little need for the team to protect their points with a top-5 or top-10 finish.
“[When you are] in the Chase, you can definitely experiment” Earnhardt said after his win at Daytona. “This is where we can get aggressive.”
In the last five seasons, every driver that has won one of the first 26 races of the season would have qualified for the Chase under the new format.
While there was a chance the maths was a little off and Junior would have had enough gas to hold off Keselowski, there was just as good of a chance of running out of gas before the final lap which would have likely caused Earnhardt to drop in the final standings.
It didn’t pay of Earnhardt this time. But it made for a more exciting finish for the fans.
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