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Wins take center stage with Chase seedings at stake

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign reached its halfway mark with Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola. Points are good but wins are better.

A single victory can be the difference between winning and losing a championship. Had Edwards won more than once in the regular season, he would have captured last year’s title by three points instead of losing it to Stewart on a most-victories tiebreaker. In fact, wins are best. Matt Kenseth leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 25 points with nine races remaining before the top 10 in the standings, plus two “Wild Card” qualifiers are seeded into the Chase for the  Sprint Cup.

Seeding is key. Were the Chase to begin today, the 5th driver in points, Tony Stewart, would be the No. 1 seed by virtue of his three victories.

All qualifiers begin the Chase with 2,000 points. Drivers one through 10 then are awarded three bonus points per victory, hence Stewart and Keselowski, who sits 9th in the points after last Saturday nights Coke Zero 400, would be seeded first and second when they re-rack the points to begin the Chase.

Eight of the current top 10 drivers have at least one victory.

 Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin have two victories apiece. Kenseth, Earnhardt, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer each have won once. Only Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have  been shut out.

Keselowski’s Kentucky victory was crucial in another respect. Coupled with Carl Edwards’ 20th-place finish, it allowed the 28-year-old Michigan native to strengthen his grip on 10th place heading to Daytona. His pre-Kentucky lead over Edwards grew from 11 to 34 points – or more than half what could be gained or lost in a single race.

There are no guarantees for anyone currently among the top 10 staying there, but the odds are becoming longer for others to race their way in. There is another reason you won’t see Keselowski and his Paul Wolfe-led Penske Racing No. 2 Dodge team taking their collective feet off the gas. “Got to win races. Tony Stewart proved that last year,” said Keselowski in his post-race interviews following the Kentucky race.

 Saturday night at Daytona Tony Stewart had an answer for the dominant pair of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Stewart side-drafted and separated Kenseth and Biffle, who had surged into the lead during a two-lap run to the finish, then pulled away for his fourth win in the last eight July races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
As Stewart approached the checkered flag for his third win of the season and the 47th of his career, a massive wreck in turn 4 skewed the finishing order behind him. Stewart’s 47th victory broke a tie with Hall of Famer Buck Baker for 14th all-time. All told, Stewart has won 18 races at Daytona, but, much as it did with Dale Earnhart Sr., the big prize continues to elude him.

“I don’t know, but I’ll trade ‘em all in for just one Daytona 500,” Stewart said of his four July victories. “This is 18 wins at Daytona -- we just haven’t got the right one yet. But all of ‘em are special and it’s cool, to do this.”

Jeff Burton came home second and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Kenseth was third (after leading a race-high 89 laps), with Joey Logano,and Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman rounding out the top five.
After the final caution flag, Kenseth led the field to the restart with Stewart to his outside and Biffle behind him. But Stewart got a push from Kasey Kahne and surged into the lead, only to have the Biffle-Kenseth pairing roar back past him.
But with an artful side-draft, Stewart unhooked the teammates, and pulled ahead while Kenseth waited for Biffle.
“I don’t know -- it seems like we made the wrong moves at Talladega (in May) by not keeping Greg with me and getting separated,” said Kenseth, the 2012 Daytona 500 winner. “Today, I think I shouldn’t have worried about it, once we got separated off of (turn) 2, and I was under Tony. “I think I should have just stayed with him and drag-raced him to the finish.”

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