Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Thursday, October 21, 2010

McMurray Presents Quandry

What a year for Jamie McMurray.

He won the Daytona 500. He won the Brickyard 400. And on Saturday night, he won the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, becoming the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race since ... Jamie McMurray, last year at Talladega.

In picking up his third win of the season, a resurgent McMurray is having the season of his life.

But he's not in the Chase. Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth -- all of whom have not won this year -- are. Granted, there's something to be said for consistency; McMurray has seven finishes of 25th or worse this season, all but off-setting his career-best nine top-5s and 11 top-10s.

But shouldn't the driver who's won three of the biggest races of the season have a spot in NASCAR's version of the playoffs?

The debate over which matters more -- wins or consistency -- is almost as old as NASCAR itself. It flared up in 2003, after Kenseth won the title with just one win -- and essentially created the Chase -- and eventually resulted in the current formula where every driver who wins a race in the first 26 races receives a 10-point bonus that amounts to seeding once the Chase starts.

But consistency still rules the day -- which explains how winless drivers make the Chase, while McMurray, easily the 2010 Comeback Driver of the Year (if NASCAR gave such an award), is on the outside looking in.

Not that McMurray's complaining. He's made history, both for himself and for car owner Chip Ganassi. He's got over $6 million in the bank this season alone, and he's got three more wins this season than a four-time Cup Series champion.

It's a tight rope, determining whether wins or consistent finishes should wind up deciding the champion. In a perfect world, both would be rewarded; the season is long, and a run of several poor finishes would doom anyone. But logically, there is a problem when the winner of the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 can't even compete for the championship.

McMurray may not be complaining. But it's definitely a head-scratcher.

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