Speed Zone Blog: Risk vs. Reward the Theme So Far in Sprint Cup Competition

Jacob Seelman Featured, NASCAR, Southeast, Southwest, West 0 Comments

March 26, 2014 — Blog by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy Lisa Eirene — Well, hasn’t this been a dandy of a first five races for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series so far?

In fact, I’m noticing a recurring theme after these first few weeks of the season, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all.

Risk versus reward.

Every one of the first five Cup races this season has seen drivers make risky moves in the hopes of gaining that reward above the window-net, a “Winner” sticker. That sticker also likely gives you the reward of being locked into the Chase Grid as well for 2014.

We saw Denny Hamlin race without a radio in the final laps of the Daytona 500 in hopes of sweeping Speedweeks; a risky move to say the least. He ultimately finished second in that one. We saw Joey Logano try to force the issue on a late-race restart at Phoenix to try and move Kevin Harvick out of the way for a win. He finished top five, but didn’t get the ‘W’. We saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. try and stretch his fuel in hopes of snagging a second win in 2014 at Las Vegas. He sputtered home second.

Remarkably, we saw Carl Edwards stay out on a cycle of late-race cautions at Bristol on a day when tires appeared to be king, and then grab the win when the rains came; his gamble did work in that case.

And just this past weekend, we saw Landon Cassill stay out on old tires to try and manufacture a way to steal a win, and we saw teammates Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart take only two tires on the thrilling green-white-checkered finish to try and get themselves a victory in 2014.

And oh, by the way, we saw Kyle Larson try to sail it in so deep to Turn 3 against Kyle Busch that Busch later remarked:

“If he drove it in further than I did, Jesus must have told him to stop … but what an awesome race this track produced!”

Key point here: In all of the risks we’ve seen drivers take this season, only once (Carl Edwards) has the risk produced the reward of a win and a potential Chase berth.

So why are the drivers risking it all, putting their entire race on the line in these high-test situations?

The answer: they have to. As it’s so often said, “To win big, you have to risk big.” And the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year have risked big because they know points racing doesn’t matter anymore, at least not to the extent they’ve been used to for 65 years.

Winning does.

No longer can a driver be content to run second when you pretty much have to win to get in and challenge for a championship. Yeah, on the off chance that there aren’t 16 different winners through the first 26 races of the season, then the highest non-winners in points would get a chance to join the Chase Grid and fight for a championship.

But the way this season has gone so far, with five winners in the first five races and about ten more knocking on the door, what are the odds of that?

Drivers are going to keep taking risks this year because they know they have to. They don’t have any other choice. It’s either gamble in hopes of winning and getting a magical Golden ticket to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, or ride around and go home disappointed.

But if that’s the case, when are we going to see these risks become too much? When are we going to see one driver’s risk ruin another driver’s day?

What happens if a driver stays out on fuel, or old tires, thinking he can steal a win or something, and ends up running out or having a failure or whatever the case, have something go wrong — and take out one or more guys around him who had nothing to do with his gamble in the first place?

That’s when the risk outweighs the reward. We haven’t seen that this season — yet — but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it won’t happen. We know how hungry some of these guys are to have one chance to prove their worth.

I’m not saying I don’t like drivers taking risks, that’s not my point at all. I love seeing a guy who hasn’t been talked about for a while take a chance to get a big payoff. That’s what makes this sport exciting. I’m just saying the teams have to be careful not to let the risk ruin their day and completely take them out of a shot at the reward in the end.

Because after all, I did say the theme was risk versus reward.

So, as we head to Martinsville, another track where beating and banging can be a little risky, it’s time again to keep an eye on who might get that reward of a win, and in this case, a grandfather clock too, and who’s going to be left out in the cold at the end of the day.

Maybe we need a warning label for Sunday: “Race at your own risk”?

Just my thoughts. Keep it off the wall guys.

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