This season, winning is the only thing that matters. Points racing seems to have taken a non-existent stance when the Chase got reformatted to the new 16-driver field. Now, a good points day is nice, but come the end of 26 races, good points days but no victories possibly mean no title run.
No driver has come to a greater understanding than the No. 24 team and it's driver, Jeff Gordon. Even as the points leader, with no wins there was no guarantee that it would mean he would be a title contender when it came time to set the Chase field.
It's been his best start to a season in over a decade, but he still couldn't break through and know he was able to have a guaranteed spot in the title hunt.
That is, until Saturday night.
A fast pit crew and a wicked fast race car made the night one that Gordon has needed for a long while. A year ago, he waited until over halfway through the Chase to get his first, and ultimately only, win of the season. Now, he made sure his Chase birth was locked in by having a strong car when it mattered most, and the team made the best pit stop when it was their time to shine. That pit stop, and that car, had one goal, and it was achieved. There is no more waiting for Gordon and his team, as he took the win Saturday night, and took a major step forward to know he will go after yet another championship.
That win also paid dividends for two writers, who each added yet another victory on their season. Unlike a week ago, all but one writer finished inside the top-10, with very few making big moves, but some making gains on the lead. Here's where everyone stands after the 5-Hour Energy 400:
Kara Martin (394) Matt Kenseth finished 10th - 2
Dustin Parks (390) Carl Edwards finished 6th - 1
Ryan O'Hara (381) Matt Kenseth finished 10th - 3
Michael Hirshbein (373) Kyle Busch finished 15th - 1
Rob Tiongson (358) Jeff Gordon WON - 2
Sal Sigala Jr (354) Jeff Gordon WON - 3
Rob Blount (340) Joey Logano finished 4th - 1
Patti Rodisch (339) Matt Kenseth finished 10th - 1
Billy Fellin (328) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th - 0
Aaron Rosser (327) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th - 1
Misan Akuya (298) Aric Almirola finished 8th - 0
James Broomhead (279) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th - 1
Next Race: The next round of action in NASCAR will take 10 days to accomplish, because the race doesn't happen for another two weeks. There is no off-week for NASCAR, despite the next points-paying race happening two weeks from now. But that race is nothing like any other event on the schedule. Daytona has all the accolades of being the big event of the season, but this next race for points is the other one that many drivers want to win. Even this past week's winner got his first victory in this event.
What makes it special is that it's not just one of the biggest races of the year, it is the longest. There are a lot of 500-mile races that a driver is capable of winning, and a team can help get in position to get that win. But, add another 100 miles to the race and it becomes a testament to endurance, both of the driver and the team. Changing track conditions, changing light, and a marathon event await teams.
Writers, you have a long while to decide, but have your picks locked in and submitted by Thursday, May 22, for the Coca-Cola 600.
AUTHOR NOTE: There will be a special edition Victory Pool this week that is completely optional for the writers to participate in. See the email that will be sent out today for explanation.