TORONTO - With only three races in the books it might seem ridiculously early to start eliminating teams from the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
A new points system, however, in spite of its much simpler format, can still be a pretty accurate barometer of things to come as my colleague Reed Spencer at The Sporting News discovered in his analysis of the race to date.
According to Spencer’s calculations last season’s championship contenders Jeff Burton, in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Greg Biffle, in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford are already all but eliminated from the trophy hunt due to horrible results so far this season.
Burton and Biffle are tied for 31st in Sprint Cup points, 63 points behind co-leaders Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.
With 43 points for a win plus five for leading a lap, that leaves both of those drivers more than a whole race out of contention.
Before you think, ‘well there are still 23 races left before the Chase kicks in’ just look at what history shows: Only one driver has come from a points position in the 30s after three races and qualified for the Chase.
That driver was Mark Martin who found himself in 40th position in 2009 after the first three races. However Martin and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team went on to win four races after that to qualify for the Chase.
That either Burton or Biffle are capable of such a feat is a long shot at best.
In the same boat are Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet and Joey Logano in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Both find themselves way back in 28th place, 60 points behind Stewart and Busch.
In his three seasons in the Firestone Indy Lights series Canada’s James Hinchcliffe has been nothing short of a breath of fresh air.
His insights into the sport during post-race media scrums have always been a highlight and his on-track performances have been top notch as well,
The mystery has been why, with all this going for him, was he stuck in the Lights for so long.
It was always about his coming along at a time when open wheel racing was suffering from the aftermath of the near deadly split and an economy that shrunk sponsorship opportunities.
This season, however, with Newman Haas Racing, Hinchcliffe appears to be getting his best chance yet at a full-time ride in the IZOD IndyCar series.
For motivation the 24-year-old Oakville, Ont., native, need look no further than three other Lights graduates — JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball and Ana Beatriz — who are also bidding to become rookies-of-the-year in IndyCar this season.
“The rookie class for 2011 is looking super-strong,” Hinchcliffe said. “With guys like JR and Charlie and now Bia getting a ride it’s shaping up to be a great race for rookie-of-the-year.
“I am just working as hard as I can to make sure that, come St. Petes, I am in a Newman/Haas Racing car so we can add our name to that fight.”
Hinchcliffe’s next test will be at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama next week when he and IndyCar veteran Oriol Servia will put the NHR Dallara through its paces in the IZOD series spring training event.
Is it possible that with each generation of Andrettis — Mario, Michael and Marco — the egos go up and the talent goes down? Just wondering. ... The picture for NASCAR Sprint Cup series racing just keeps getting rosier after a dismal 2010. For the third consecutive week the grandstands were sold out for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas and on the television front the race posted a 5.3 rating, up 29% over last year’s 4.1. That is also the third consecutive time a Sprint Cup race was up over the previous year, and for the third consecutive time, it ranked as the top-rated sports event of the weekend. ... Juan Pablo Montoya is blaming his generally poor performance last season on the switch from a rear wing to a spoiler. Montoya now says the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team is much better prepared for this season. Montoya finished third in Vegas and gained five positions to fourth in the Sprint Cup standings. ... Darrell Waltrip has signed a two-year contract extension to continue as lead analyst for the network’s NASCAR on FOX coverage.