Danny Peters · Tuesday September 10, 2013
ONE: Newman the Only Winner in Sad Scenario
Ryan Newman described the events of Saturday night’s Richmond race as the toughest he had faced in his 30-year racing career. Monday’s proceedings might just rank as his most surprising. In a landmark decision by NASCAR, all three Michael Waltrip Racing drivers, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers, were docked 50 pre-Chase points while General Manager and Vickers’ spotter Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely. NASCAR also levied a $300,000 fine on the MWR organization; an amount NASCAR President Mike Helton described as “the most major fine in our history in terms of a dollar amount.” The deduction in points sees Truex Jr. ousted from his Chase berth with Newman picking up the suddenly spare place in the playoffs.
Kudos to NASCAR for reacting so swiftly and decisively to protect the integrity of the sport especially given the public outcry and Twitter meltdown as fans and commentators alike vented their collective spleens.
But for Jeff Gordon it means little. Had the race stayed green he would be in the Chase and Joey Logano would be on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, Bowyer who appeared to deliberately spin out can still win the championship. And Truex Jr., who played no actual part in the incident, is still out.
Addressing this point in particular, Helton noted, “We look at the incident and only the incident, because we know from experience that if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident, you can’t cover all those bases. You can’t ever come up with a conclusion that is equitable and credible across the board.”
And whilst that is a fair point ultimately, when the dust settles on this incident and we get back to the serious business of racing for a championship the only real winner will be Ryan Newman.
TWO: A Wide Open Chase
The start of the tenth iteration of the much hyped and much derided Chase for the Sprint Cup is just five days away, the one thing we know for sure is that we’ll have a new champion this year with Brad Keselowski (more below) missing out on the big dance after a valiant effort at Richmond. And the truth is you can make a case for nearly every driver being the one to lift the big silver trophy at Homestead.
Jimmie Johnson, despite his poor form of late, has to be considered a favorite as does Matt Kenseth a decade removed from his only championship to date. Perhaps this is the year Kyle Busch puts it all together or Carl Edwards, with the momentum of his win and finishing as the regular season points champ, finally gets it done?
And then there’s Kevin Harvick who so many thought was a lame duck headed into 2013. Could he ride off with a championship for the only owner he’s ever known? Clint Bowyer has shown he knows how to stay in contention deep into the Chase. And don’t rule out Joey Logano who Richmond aside has been the hottest driver in NASCAR over the past month and a half.
Then there’s Kasey Kahne who knows how to win and also how to navigate the five mile-and-a-half circuits in the Chase. That leaves us with four drivers: Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Kurt Busch: All of whom still could put together an immaculate string of races and get it done albeit less likely than some of the names I’ve mentioned earlier. In short: the Chase is wide open and anyone, yes anyone, can win it. Should be fun to watch it unfold.
THREE: The Champ Misses the Chase for the First Time Since 2006
For the first time since 2006, the defending champion failed to make the Chase field. Seven years ago, it was Tony Stewart who missed out on the Chase after picking up his second championship the year before.
Now, in 2013 it is Brad Keselowski who has missed out despite a stellar effort at Richmond International Raceway last Saturday night especially in the first 300 laps of the race.
“I don’t really have any emotions right now,” said Keselowski post-race. “We weren’t good enough to make it and we didn’t. That’s the reality.”
It is, however, instructive to note that Keselowski missed a top ten berth by 32 points (31 more points would have tied him with Logano in tenth who would have held the tie-breaker with the one race win). Why is that number significant? Simply put because Keselowski lost 31 points this year from NASCAR penalties. Had he just needed one or two positions on the final restart the story may have been very different.
That aside, Keselowski was blunt in his assessment of his program: “We have work to do. At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the results speak for themselves. We didn’t have enough results to get where we needed to be.”
FOUR: Chicagoland: Not the Best Place to Start the Chase
The trouble with racetracks like Richmond is that by comparison the cookie-cutter tri-oval of Chicagoland Speedway seems almost pedestrian. This will be the third consecutive occasion the Chase has begun at this track and the only real point of note from the past two races are the drivers who’ve won the race. In 2011, it was the injured Tony Stewart and last year it was Brad Keselowski. Both drivers went on to win the title outright so clearly that’s something of a lucky omen for this weekend’s winner; assuming, of course, they’re ensconced in the Chase. The track has developed something of a reputation for being a “fuel mileage” race and last year’s race was no exception with just one quality pass for the lead occurring on the race track. Let’s hope that the thirteenth Cup race at the circuit will be a lucky one and we get a truly compelling start to the Chase. That being said, I won’t be holding my breath.
FIVE: One Thousand Up for the Second Series
And finally this week, Friday night’s Nationwide Race marked the 1000th race in NASCAR’s second echelon. The Series was formed in 1982 from a late-model sportsman series with some help from sponsorship from Anheuser-Busch under the Budweiser brand for the first couple of years. From 1984 to 2007 the second tier was known as the Busch Grand National Series and then latterly the Busch Series before Nationwide took over sponsorship seven seasons back. NASCAR President Mike Helton describes the Series as “a perfect blend of young and veteran drivers, providing some of the most compelling and entertaining racing in motorsports.”
To some extent that’s true but to really live up to that goal, NASCAR needs to find a way to stop the Cup drivers moonlighting their way to the vast majority of wins. Just four of 25 races this year have been won by full-time drivers in the Series (Regan Smith twice and once apiece for Sam Hornish Jr. and Trevor Bayne) and that’s a sorry statistic. To true really make it a perfect blend, NASCAR needs to find a way to outlaw the moonlighters (doesn’t that sound like a good old NASCAR phrase?) The revised points system was a step in the right direction but change is still needed and it’s time it happened.
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