New points system showing teeth

March, 16, 2011

Here are a couple of little stats Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton don't want to hear, two drivers tied for 31st in the standings heading to Bristol this weekend.

Nine of the top 12 drivers after three races in the 2010 Sprint Cup season went on the make the Chase.

Of the three who worked their way back into the top 12, none was as far behind as Biffle and Burton are now -- Jeff Gordon was 13th, Kurt Busch was 19th and Denny Hamlin was 22nd.

Yes, it's only three races of a long season, but what a difference from how things looked a year ago. This new points system could have an impact on which drivers make the Chase.

If the playoff started today, Jeff Gordon, who ranks 19th in the standings, would be in, and Jimmie Johnson, who ranks 12th, would be out.

The final two spots in the Chase now are based on victories. Gordon is the only driver outside the top 10 with a victory at the moment. Johnson is winless heading into Bristol, a race he won one year ago.

Obviously, these things will change and tend to balance out over time, but making up ground is a tougher road now than it was in the past.

That's bad news for Biffle and Burton, Chase regulars who already are almost a full field's worth of points behind 10th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Biffle and Burton are 41 points behind Earnhardt. It doesn't sound like much, but each point is worth one position on the track.

Clearly, Biffle and Burton need to avoid trouble on the Bristol bull ring and post a decent finish to start gaining some ground. Biffle has a new gas man this weekend after the troubles his team had in the pits at Las Vegas.

Biffle and Burton have made the biggest plunge in comparison to one year ago. Biffle was sixth in the standings and Burton was seventh.

But which driver do you think has made the biggest move up compared to a year ago? If you said Earnhardt, you aren't even close. Junior was 15th after three races in 2010.

The biggest gainer is Ryan Newman, up 27 spots (32nd to fifth) from where he was after three races in 2010. Juan Pablo Montoya is +22 (26th to fourth), AJ Allmendinger is +18 (27th to ninth) and Kurt Busch is +18 (19th to tied for first).

Marcos Ambrose is +16 (33rd to 17th) in his new ride at Richard Petty Motorsports, and interestingly, Bobby Labonte also is +16 (31st to 15th). Labonte replaced Ambrose in the No. 47 Toyota.

The team with the biggest decline so far is Richard Childress Racing. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Burton are a combined 59 spots worse than they were a year ago. Harvick was first in the standings and Bowyer was second then.

However, new RCR teammate Paul Menard is sixth, 11 positions better than he was at this point last year with RPM.

A lot will change over the next six months before the Chase begins, but the Cup standings have changed dramatically from a year ago. And in this points system, it's tougher to get back to where you were.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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