Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards showed us last season just how important it was for a driver and team to get every point they could from each race. The point’s race became a lesson in mathematics as suddenly fans of the sport began to realize just how important it was to collect that one single bonus point for leading a lap or the extra point you got for leading the most laps. The three bonus points for winning suddenly became more important than a driver getting his hands on the winning trophy.
It was those hard-earned points that gave us the storybook ending to the 2011 season and you may not realize it but it is those same points that are beginning to shape the way in which the 2012 season gets underway. While the driver’s point race took center stage at the last race of the season at Homestead Miami, there was another point race taking place that is so many times overlooked until the beginning of the following season.
All eyes follow the standings in the driver’s points after each race, but there are a few eyes that will immediately look at the standings in the separate owner’s point standings. These are the points that determine the all-important top-35 teams that are automatically assured of a starting spot for the next race. The competition for the last couple of spots on this list is every bit as tough as those for the top spots in the driver’s points, but for obvious reasons this battle doesn’t get the same kind of media coverage as those fighting for the top.
Tony Stewart’s win in the driver’s points that earned him his third Sprint Cup championship will forever be remembered in the history of the sport, but the reality of it is that beginning later this month in Daytona it will not give him an advantage over the rest of the field. The same can’t be said about the owner’s points because if your team ended the season in the top 35 of this list when you go to Daytona, you know that you have made the starting field for the Daytona 500 regardless of where you qualify. NASCAR also uses the 2011 list of the top 35 to guarantee spots for the next four races after Daytona.
Qualifying for the 500 is unlike any other race. Every other race has its starting grid set by the fastest speeds of a driver during a lap or two during qualifying. The 500 uses the same format but after qualifying only the top-two spots are guaranteed with the rest of the field being set by where they finish in a couple of qualifying races known as the Duel 150’s.
That format puts a lot of pressure on teams that are not in the top 35 and guaranteed a starting spot. This is where last year’s top-35 owners list becomes so important, and just like every year leading up to the season opening race, we see teams without a guaranteed spot “buy” their own guaranteed spot by acquiring the points from a team that finished in the top 35.
This season is no different as Stewart-Haas Racing has entered into a partnership with Tommy Baldwin Racing that will guarantee SHR’s newest Cup driver, Danica Patrick, a starting spot in the first five races of the season. It’s a very unique ownership setup for both organizations as Patrick will run only 10 Cup events in the #10 Chevrolet prepared by SHR. TBR will prepare and field a Chevrolet using the number 10 in the remaining 26 races with David Reutimann behind the wheel.
Baldwin will receive technical and pit crew support from SHR for sharing the car, but the big winner will be SHR. It in return will be guaranteed a qualified car for Patrick in the 10 races that she has planned to run while preparing her for what they hope may turn into a full-time effort in 2013.
This isn’t expected to be the last move of owner’s points before the start of the season. Red Bull Racing may have closed its doors after last season, but it did finish the year with two cars in the top 35. Those points now are believed to be the property of former Red Bull race director Thomas Ueberall. It could be that his phone may be ringing off the hook as owners try to ensure their spot in the upcoming Daytona 500 and it usually doesn’t come without a price!