The addition of two "wild card" berths to the Chase for the Sprint Cup field last season brought an unexpected level of anticipation and excitement as the weeks wound down to the start of the final 10 races of the season.
At the time it seemed hard to imagine the battle gettting any better in the future.
So far anyway, the chase for the two wild card berths this season has risen to a whole new level.
Entering Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway, four drivers – all with one win – are vying for the two wild card spots.
It's yet another sign the level of competition has increased this year. Already there are eight drivers in the Top 10 in points with wins and drivers from seven different teams have won races – and we're not yet at the halfway point of the season.
The list of drivers who haven't won yet this season is just as distinguished as the list of who has. Among the 2011 winners yet to visit Victory Lane this season: Kevin Harvick, who finished third in points the bast two seasons, and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.
Last season showed the increased importance of winning, particularly in getting into the Chase, and even in the determination of the series champion. Tony Stewart won his third series title in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards decided by victories in the season.
A win alone this year may not be good enough to make the Chase and there's nothing wrong with that.
In fact, the more winning becomes a dominant part in who is eligible to compete for the championship and who ultimately wins it, the better for NASCAR.