Wins matter, and some of NASCAR's biggest names still 0-for-'08

Here's a quick question for you. What do Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all have in common?

If you said they all makes tons of money, that's technically correct, but it isn't the answer we're seeking.

All nine of these Sprint Cup drivers have yet to win a race this season. Add it all up, and you get 188 Cup wins as a combined victory total for this group.

The 2008 winless brigade includes four former Cup champions and three Daytona 500 winners. All of them except Earnhardt won at least one race last season.

Seven of them made the Chase in 2007 (all but Earnhardt and Biffle), but only five rank inside the Chase 12 after nine races this season.

Winning still is underemphasized in NASCAR's points system, but it is important over the next 17 races before the Chase begins. Drivers are seeded in the playoff based on victories.

Earnhardt ranks third in the standings. But he would start the Chase tied for seventh if the playoff began today, 30 points behind top seed Carl Edwards, whose three victories would place him first even though he ranks 10th in the standings.

The guys outside the top 12 need to race consistently to get back in the playoff picture, but a win or two along the way could change things when the Chase starts.

A driver gets more points for winning, of course, but a couple of victories would bring another advantage.

For example, let's say Ryan Newman ranks 12th after 26 races, but has two wins. He probably would start the Chase third or fourth, ahead of all the drivers who didn't win or had only one victory.

Last season was the first time NASCAR used the seeding-by-victories format. Each win is worth 10 additional points when the Chase begins.

It didn't change who won the title last year. Jimmie Johnson would have started the Chase 15 points behind Gordon instead of 20 points ahead, but Johnson still would have won the championship.

However, all the drivers realize it could make the difference in who wins the title. The pressure is on to win some races as the contenders head into the summer months.

Just finishing in the top 10 doesn't cut it. Winning matters, and that's a good thing. Drivers accustomed to seeing the checkered flag need to find their way back to Victory Lane.

Ashley Force proved herself
In September, I questioned whether Ashley Force had the toughness to get the job done as an NHRA Funny Car driver.

I happily say now I was 100 percent wrong.

Force became the first woman in history to win an NHRA Funny Car event, beating her dad, John Force, last weekend at Atlanta. She leads the points standings and has reached the finals in three consecutive events.

Few racers ever go through what Ashley endured emotionally last season as a rookie. She lost teammate Eric Medlen, who died after a practice session crash in Florida.

Ashley came away unscathed from a scary accident at the Seattle event in July, then watched her famous father suffer serious injuries in a crash at Dallas.

She was shaken at the time. The danger that lurks on every pass at 300 mph had taken a big toll on her family in only six months.

It wasn't clear if her heart was in it. Who would blame her if it wasn't?

But Ashley, 25, has proven she has that same competitive fire that made her father the greatest drag racer in history.

As her career continues to blossom, Ashley probably will look back on the hardships of 2007 and realize it made her stronger.

Adding it up
A few oddities to ponder heading to Race 10 of the Cup season:

Gibbs had an easier weekend
For the first time in four years, Joe Gibbs wasn't sweating it out on NFL draft weekend, trying to decide which player was the right one to pick as the head coach of the Washington Redskins.

Gibbs was in Talladega last weekend, enjoying himself while watching his drivers win both events -- Tony Stewart in the Nationwide race Saturday and Kyle Busch in the Cup race Sunday.

Gibbs, who retired in January after Washington's playoff loss to Seattle, said sitting on the pit box beats the heck out of stressing over a top draft pick.

"You have just a few minutes to make a huge decision," Gibbs said Sunday. "And most of the time you can't plan for it because something comes up that changes things. It's an exciting day and it's challenging, but I'd rather be here."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.