BROOKLYN, Mich. — Carl Edwards thinks it’s possible for a driver to win the Sprint Cup Series championship without winning a race all season.
He just doesn’t want to be that guy.
Going into today’s Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Edwards is one of four winless drivers among the top 12 in the series points standings. Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle also would qualify if the 10-race Chase for the championship started today — none of them has a win in 2009.
Could one of those four drivers qualify for the Chase, then go on to win the title, all without visiting Victory Lane even once? Edwards says yes — but hopes not.
“You could definitely win a championship without winning races,” Edwards said. “I’d rather not win one that way.”
Sure, drivers strive for the checkered flag, but NASCAR’s championship system tends to reward consistent drivers over those who win one week and crash the next.
Perhaps the ultimate example of consistency trumping aggressiveness came in 2003. Matt Kenseth’s title run was seen as a just reward for an underrated driver, but it lacked a certain amount of sizzle.
Kenseth won only once all year but clinched the title before the season’s final race.
NASCAR officials adopted the Chase system the following year, essentially establishing a 26-race regular season that determines which drivers are eligible to run for the title during the final 10 races, NASCAR’s version of a postseason.
Officials hoped the new system would make the points race tighter at the end of the season, and it generally has. But it hasn’t eliminated conservative “points racing.”
Subsequent tweaks to the system made victories somewhat more valuable, but consistency still rules in NASCAR — something made evident by remarks from Michigan pole-sitter Brian Vickers, who is scrambling to climb two spots in the standings and qualify for the Chase.
He’d like to win today. But he won’t be going all-out.
“We would like to lead every lap, but if we’re a strong contender all day, then we can’t afford to take a crazy pit strategy that could put us at risk of running out of fuel trying to win the race,” Vickers said.
Points leader Tony Stewart has three victories this season and figures it’ll be tough for any of his winless competitors to take the title without breaking through to Victory Lane.
“As long as things are mathematically possible, it’s possible,” Stewart said. “But is it likely? Not very likely that a guy’s going to win the Chase and not win a race.”
Jimmie Johnson, who won seven times on his way to his third straight series title last year, doesn’t foresee a driver taking the title without a win.
And he thinks Edwards is capable of both.
“I don’t think you can win the title without a win, and I look as Carl as a big threat,” Johnson said. “He’s been consistent. … He’s still been able to hang tough in the points.”