Commentary

Winning a title without winning a race?

Updated: September 8, 2009, 4:12 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Could someone go winless this season and become the Sprint Cup champion?

Yes, it could happen.

Could someone win the most races this season and not make the Chase?

Yes, that also is possible.

For example, Kyle Busch could win Saturday night at Richmond to become the first five-race winner this season but fall short of making the 12-man playoff.

"We've got to go there and win and let the chips fall where they may," Busch's crew chief, Steve Addington, told reporters after Sunday's race at Atlanta. "We can't control what everybody else does."

Busch could win at Richmond and start the Chase at the top of the standings but lose the championship to a driver who fails to win a race this season.

[+] EnlargeJuan Pablo Montoya
AP Photo/Bob BrodbeckJuan Pablo Montoya isn't taking his Chase chances sitting down, even if he's yet to win a race in 2009.

Four drivers who haven't won in 2009 -- Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman -- rank in the top 12 heading into the Richmond event that will decide the Chase field.

Montoya is the only driver in the top 12 who has finished sixth or better in three of the past five races.

"We're getting there," Montoya said after his third-place finish Sunday at Atlanta. "If we keep running like this, we might even have a shot at the championship. That is nice to see."

NASCAR has come close to crowning a winless champion several times in the past. Four times, the champion finished the season with only one victory -- Matt Kenseth in 2003, Benny Parsons in 1973, Ned Jarrett in 1961 and Bill Rexford in 1950.

Kenseth's 2003 title, the last season before the Chase format began, came while Newman finished sixth with eight wins.

Parsons' championship was the same year David Pearson won 11 times in only 18 starts, but Parsons ran the full 28-race schedule. So did Richard Petty, who won six times but finished fifth.

Terry Labonte won both his championships in seasons in which he had only two victories. He edged teammate Jeff Gordon in 1996, when Gordon had 10 wins.

But can a driver go through the 10-race Chase without a victory and still win the title? Absolutely.

Tony Stewart won five times in his 2005 championship season but was 0-for-10 in the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson had only one Chase victory during his first championship year in 2006, and Kurt Busch had only one playoff win in his title year of 2004.

NASCAR might be as close as it has ever been to a winless driver winning the championship. And it's dangerously close to the driver with the most wins being left out of the Chase.

***

One family accuses another family of throwing a race. Former teammates almost come to blows. Tony Schumacher ties "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, and Ashley Force Hood makes history.

[+] EnlargeRobert Hight Funny Car
Courtesy NHRADid Robert Hight get a break from team owner and father-in-law John Force on Sunday, insuring Hight would make the NHRA's Countdown playoffs? We may never know, but it certainly can be expected when the playoffs -- and money -- are on the line.

Wow.

The U.S. Nationals have given drag racing fans many incredible moments over the past 50 years, but Monday's finals might have been the best show ever for the NHRA's signature event.

Schumacher beat his former crew chief Alan Johnson and rival driver Larry Dixon to win an eighth U.S. Nationals Top Fuel crown, equaling the legendary Garlits for the most ever in the class.

Force Hood upheld the family honor by becoming the first woman to win the event in a Funny Car.

But both remarkable accomplishments were overshadowed by the Pedregon brothers' accusing John Force of deliberating losing to son-in-law Robert Hight in the Funny Car semifinals.

Hight needed to win the matchup to earn the 10th and final spot in the Countdown playoff ahead of Cruz Pedregon.

Force had a slow reaction time as the car veered toward the wall and spun the tires. Hight made it down the track for the victory.

Cruz Pedregon called Force "a cheater," and his brother Tony Pedregon, who leads the standings, accused Force of throwing the match. Tony Pedregon and Force had harsh words before being separated.

I don't know whether Force took a dive, but I do know the NHRA shouldn't be surprised when these questions arise with multicar teams and playoff spots on the line.

Getting every possible car into the playoffs for a chance at winning the championship is something every team wants for its sponsors.

Tony Pedregon said his victory over his brother last month in Brainerd, Minn. proves they wouldn't stoop to throwing a race.

Looking back two events ago is not the same thing. If the Pedregon brothers had been in the same situation Monday, would anyone have been surprised if Tony had lost?

Tony Pedregon also said he knows what goes on at John Force Racing because he worked there for eight years. Last time I checked, Pedregon won a championship at JFR. Is he insinuating his title there was given to him?

A few weeks after his title at JFR in 2003, Pedregon left the organization and formed his own team with his brother.

Monday was an unfortunate situation that can happen when multicar teams have a playoff waiting, but Tony Pedregon owes his entire career to John Force.

***

NASCAR could learn something from a decision the NHRA made last week about adding championship points for each round of qualifying. The NHRA will award three points to the top qualifying time in each round, two points for second and one point for third.

Saturday qualifying had become nothing more than a test session at many NHRA events. It's rare for Saturday speeds to top what teams do Friday nights when weather conditions usually are cooler.

Now each round of qualifying has meaning. Fans who show up Saturday know teams will race hard to try to earn those bonus points.

NASCAR should consider a similar format for Cup qualifying, awarding points for the top three qualifiers and adding meaning to an activity that's rote for many teams.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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