by Ryan Isley
Writer’s Note: This is Part 1 in a 13-Part series. Each Friday from November 23rd to February 15th, Ryan will make a prediction for the 2013 NASCAR season spanning over all three main touring series – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. On February 8th and 15th, Ryan will predict the 12 drivers who will make the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase and the Sprint Cup champion. You can check out all of the predictions here.
The first prediction for the 2013 NASCAR season is that concussions will once again play a role in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – and it could also shape which drivers make the Chase or how the Chase order finishes.
One of the biggest storylines of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup was that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was forced out of his car for the races at Kansas and Martinsville after suffering his second concussion in five weeks in a wreck at Talladega.
While Earnhardt, Jr. did the right thing by seeking the opinion of neurologist Dr. Jerry Petty, it also meant that the 38-year-old driver eliminated himself from any chance he had at winning his first Sprint Cup championship. By sitting out two races, Earnhardt, Jr. had no shot at finishing higher than 12th – the last spot in the Chase.
If Earnhardt, Jr. would have stayed in the car and earned as many points at Kansas (37) and Martinsville (42) as he did at those tracks earlier in the season, Earnhardt, Jr. would have finished tied for seventh in the Sprint Cup standings with Matt Kenseth instead of finishing 12th.
This brings me to 2013. I think that at some point in the upcoming NASCAR season, we will see a Sprint Cup driver suffer a concussion and face a similar choice that stared at Earnhardt, Jr.
Each race carries a maximum possibility of 48 points (43 for finishing in first place, three bonus points for the win, one bonus point for leading a lap and one bonus point for leading the most laps). Every driver who starts the race is guaranteed at least one point, as the 43rd-place finisher ends up with one point. By not making the race, a driver would get zero points.
How important is each point? Just ask Jeff Gordon. He trailed Kyle Busch by 12 points for the final spot in the Chase heading into the last race before the Chase at Richmond. He ended up beating Busch by 15 points on the night, therefore clinching his spot in the Chase by three points.
If a driver would be forced out of a race early in the season, they might be able to make up the points and still have a shot at making the Chase and still give themselves a chance at winning the championship. But even missing a race early in the season would put a driver in a bad spot, as every point is crucial in this new points system that NASCAR adopted prior to the 2011 season.
Now if a driver would be forced to miss a race in the Chase – as Earnhardt, Jr. was in 2012 – that driver is virtually assured of finishing 12th in the standings, making that decision a little more difficult to make.
So there you have the first prediction for NASCAR 2013 – the Chase will be affected one way or another by concussions.
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