In my little corner of the ESPN.com NASCAR page, I usually focus on the "what is" and not the "what if." But since it's an off week, I think I'll wander off the beaten path and play the what-if game (so much better than Hungry Hungry Hippos).
It wasn't too long ago that I wrote about what would happen if there was a Chase in every season since NASCAR started its modern points system in 1975. (You can read about it here.)
This offseason, NASCAR instituted its first major points overhaul since 1975, going for a simplified and more streamlined system. Quite simply, one point per position.
The researcher in me wondered: What if NASCAR had this points system when it instituted the Chase in 2004? Now I know things may have turned out differently if different drivers were running for the championship, but stick with me and we'll have some fun.
No titles would've changed hands and Jimmie Johnson would still be going for his sixth straight, but one career might've turned out far differently.
Then on the strength of eight top-10 finishes in the Chase, McMurray would've rallied to finish fourth in points, 17 back of champion Kurt Busch. All that in just the second full season of his Sprint Cup Series career.
How would that have affected McMurray's career, and the future of Chip Ganassi Racing?
Would McMurray and Ganassi have stuck together? And, spurred by the young driver's marketability and success, could Ganassi have attracted the sponsors to keep his team afloat, instead of having to merge with DEI to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?
McMurray, reunited with Ganassi at EGR last season, also would've made the Chase based on his two regular-season wins, which I deem "The McMurray Rule."
Last year, McMurray would've made the Chase despite sitting 15th in points after Richmond based on his two regular-season wins. He added another win in the Chase, but his inconsistency (he had a win but only two other Chase top-10 finishes) would've doomed him to just a sixth-place finish in points.
The landscape of NASCAR may not have been overhauled by the points change had it taken place in 2004 instead of 2010. But the careers of McMurray and all of the drivers who came through Chip Ganassi Racing in that time may have been drastically altered.
Now, for all you fans who thirst for knowledge, drink up, my friends. Here's how the fields for the past Chases would've changed had this new points system been in force:
• 2004 -- Jamie McMurray goes from out to in, making it on points. Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman make it on wild cards.
• 2006 -- The top 10 stay the same again, but Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle make it on wild cards. Stewart, who won three Chase races, goes into the Chase finale two points behind Jimmie Johnson, but finishes third.
• 2007 -- In the first 12-driver Chase, no changes.
• 2010 -- McMurray makes the field and finishes sixth in points. Clint Bowyer misses the Chase.