The Frontstretch: Enjoy It While It Lasts: Kyle Busch's Dominant Season To Be Derailed By Chase Format by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday July 15, 2008

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Enjoy It While It Lasts: Kyle Busch's Dominant Season To Be Derailed By Chase Format

The Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday July 15, 2008

 

Be forewarned: Yes, this is another Kyle Busch article. Yes, that move on the outside of Jimmie Johnson on the final lap of the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday night was nothing short of remarkable; and yes, I will be touting how well he has run this year, the dominance which he has displayed, and the fact that he is doing it all behind the wheel of a Toyota. However, what I will also be touching on is the fact that while in the midst of what should be a roadmap of how to win a championship, Busch’s points lead will be all but erased in about two months.

And that’s a shame.

By any measure, Kyle Busch’s performance this year in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has been nothing short of jaw-dropping — especially in today’s era of the Car of Tomorrow, parity, and the inability to pass another car by way of aerodynamics. Barely past the halfway point, Busch and company have notched seven wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Many credit this to the organization at Joe Gibbs Racing, as well as the engineering machine that is Toyota Racing Development. But it hasn’t been just one area where they’ve excelled — in truth, they’ve won on tracks as varied as Elliott Sadler’s paint schemes, with Busch having a career-defining year at the ripe old age of 23.

Gone is the petulant youngster, thought to be driving over his head 11/10ths of the time, flattening the sides of Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 Chevrolets in the process. It was a driver who, although supremely talented, often took on the appearance of a spoiled rich kid who had just been handed the keys to daddy’s Corvette for the weekend. While I am of the belief such an opinion is wildly exaggerated, there were more than a few instances over the last few years where perception trumped reality with Busch.

The past, however, still acts as a powerful motivator for the younger of the Busch brothers. What should have been an enjoyable and formative tenure for Kyle may have started that way early on… but quickly degenerated. Stuck somewhere amongst the two powerhouse superstars of this generation’s dominant organization — Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and whatever it was the No. 25 team was supposed to be (cough, R&D, cough…) — the No. 5 car was routinely fast, but many times was seen sliding backwards into a wall or arcing around off a corner in a trail of tire smoke. Some may have considered Busch’s antics a cry for help, lashing out for attention, or just a driver aching to break out of his shell and show what he can accomplish if given the chance to be the superstar that he knows he can be.

Regardless, it was a continual quagmire within the organization that left Busch the odd man out for far too long. Couple that with being cast aside in favor of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver on his way out the door, and there is a little extra incentive for Busch to go out there every week and try to not only win, but win big — regardless of what series he may be competing in.

But as Busch lights the NASCAR world on fire, it’s been a jarring change for those who remember a certain previous occupant of the No. 18. Back when the car was primarily the Interstate Batteries green machine, competitors and fans alike had grown accustomed to the manner in which Bobby Labonte would win races. Never making much noise and with little fanfare, he ran a smooth, consistent race, hanging around until the end and putting himself in a position to win — or just killing ‘em with consistency in notching a Top 5 finish.

All the Cup trophies in the world can’t stop Kyle Busch’s big point lead from being drastically cut once the 2008 Chase begins.

Not Kyle.

Nearly every lap is run like a qualifying lap, tails out — with the side plates on the rear wing tickling the wall at the apex of each corner. Hey, these things need sideforce to turn… right? Busch is just doing his part without going all Penske-car on us. And while it’s hard to believe at times, the reality of it all is that this unique driver would be in the midst of a solid championship run — if not for the points reset following race No. 26 at Richmond in September.

So, just how does this compare to dominating performances of years past in NASCAR?

In 2000, when Bobby Labonte won his Sprint Cup championship, he was run roughshod over the competition at the 1.5-mile tracks (“…in his damned Pontiac…” as Mike Skinner once remarked), and as a result, held but a 45-point lead over Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at this same point in the season. At year’s end, that tally would run itself up to 265 — but with only four wins to Labonte’s credit.

When Matt Kenseth won the title in 2003, he had all of one win and a 165-point lead over Jeff Gordon at the halfway mark. When Gordon won his third title during his record-tying 13-win Tour De Force in 1998, he ended the season with a 364-point margin over Mark Martin; but at this same point in the season, the gap was a mere 52.

With that said, in an era before the Chase, this season’s title — although not in the bag — would not exactly be a wide-open affair. Busch currently holds a 262-point lead over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the Sprint Cup standings. Should Busch decide that The Brickyard 400 is a less-than-compelling affair, staying home and watching, say, Earnhardt, Jr. win instead, he’d still have a 67-point advantage. And while Busch obviously isn’t going to blow off the second-biggest race of the year, the likelihood of him opening an even larger advantage is readily apparent. What is even more telling is the near 700-point lead he has over JGR teammate Denny Hamlin in 12th place – further illustrating the absurdity of the Chase format. If the Chase were to begin today, Busch’s lead would be cut to 40 over Carl Edwards and but 70 over the five drivers currently qualified for the Chase that are winless.

Ugh. Just what about a 700-point deficit screams to the sporting world, “Championship Contender?”

Regardless, Busch’s performance to date in 2008 has vaulted the No. 18 car back atop the pecking order in NASCAR – a place where it had been more absent than Barack Obama during a Senate roll call in recent years. What had been the flagship car for Joe Gibbs Racing since their foray into NASCAR in 1992 seemed to be slipping into obscurity and irrelevance since Bobby Labonte last won in it at Homestead in 2003; and that was only because Bill Elliott blew a tire on the last lap. The team that sailed to a 265-point win over Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in 2000 had returned points performances of 24th, 29th and 21st in the three years before Busch’s arrival. But now, 2008 has restored this team to its former prominence among the elite in NASCAR’s top division.

Many have become frustrated with Busch this year, while others readily (and begrudgingly) agree that he is, in fact, talented — but they don’t like his attitude (which I think is actually kind of funny). They also don’t like the fact that he’s blowing the perceived doors (or corporate headlight decals) off their favorite driver, or that he drives one of them rice burnin’ Hiroshima hot rods and not a Shivvy. Personally, I think Busch is a breath of fresh air, and has actually provided us something worth talking about this year, which has been devoid of any real excitement — save for a couple of finishes that were the sole product of green-white-checkered shenanigans.

What is frustrating, though, is the upcoming Chase format which threatens to tear this season completely apart. Say what you will about the excitement or excrement it generates; but for all intents and purposes, it denied Jeff Gordon what would have been a decidedly deserved fifth Championship in 2007. And while Busch and the No. 18 team still have essentially half of the season left to fend off the competition, they are well on their way to winning Joe Gibbs Racing’s fourth Sprint Cup championship since the 2000 season — until the Chase puts 11 other drivers back in their Time Zone with just ten races remaining on the year.

Personally, I think it’s just going to delay the inevitable, making a Championship run that much more satisfying and embarrassing for the rest of the field. But in a season of dominance like the one Busch has had, there’s no reason for it to even be that close.

Contact Vito Pugliese

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Kevin in SoCal
07/15/2008 01:12 AM
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Those of you who dislike both Kyle Busch and the Chase format are in a paradox. You want to see his points reset, but that would give validity to the Chase. You dont like the way the points reset, but without it, Kyle would run away with the title.

Me, I like the Chase. I would rather see a closer battle for the Cup than see one driver run away with it all and lock it up with a few races left in the season.

Gordon81Wins
07/15/2008 06:54 AM
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Kevin, with that kind of thinking, why not make the Chase twenty drivers and five races? Definitely have a closer battle for the Cup then.

Whoops, don’t let me give NASCAR any ideas.

The Chase is the worst playoff format in sports. I’m not just saying that as a Gordon fan…I hated it from the beginning.

Bill B
07/15/2008 07:09 AM
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I hate the Chase. I don’t like Busch but if he isn’t the champion this year then it just show (again) what a farce the chase is. All it accomplishes is to make luck paramount in determining the champion and diminishing the role of consistency.

Ken
07/15/2008 07:51 AM
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Chase or no Chase, this is one year it won’t matter. I can’t stand Busch almost as much as I can’t stand any of those Hendrick hacks, but even I’ll admit Kyle Busch cannot be stopped. He’ll win at least 5 of the next 7 races leading up to the dreaded Chase, then he will most likely win at least 8 of the 10 chase races. Kyle will be the 2008 Champion, and there is nobody, repeat nobody, who can stop him.

Douglas
07/15/2008 07:53 AM
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“Me, I like the Chase. I would rather see a closer battle for the Cup than see one driver run away with it all and lock it up with a few races left in the season.” (quote from Kevin)

I have read, and read, and re-read this statement, and still cannot believe ANYONE
would not only make it, but put it into print!

If “re-setting” the points is good, then lets do it every three weekends! Or every four weekends!

What a stupid statement and idea that the “chase” is good because it wipes out the leaders points and gives the “also-rans” yet another chance!

DUMB & DUMBER!

Now, knowing that NA$CAR is going to confiscate his points! Maybe we will see Kyle try to win EACH AND EVERY RACE FROM NOW ON, why? Because that is ten, (10) points for the chase, something Brian & his Brian-far*s cannot take away. So the ONLY way to win the Chumpionship of NA$CAR, is to collect as many ten-pointers as possible, BEFORE THE CHASE STARTS!

Kyle has absolutely nothing to lose by taking chances going for the win each and every weekend! And everything to gain!

Hey Kevin-in-SoCal, I’ll bet if someone took 300+ points from you, you would scream bloody murder!

Welcome to the circus called NA$CAR!

Oh, and I sure hope Ken is correct!

GO KYLE!

Douglas
07/15/2008 08:18 AM
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BREAKING NEWS FROM NA$CAR!

(or is that simply Brian breaking wind?) Same diff!

NA$CAR has announced this morning (after due consideration of who is leading the points currently), that after the chase is over, ALL POINTS will be erased and the CHUMPIONSHIP will be awarded to the MOST POPULAR DRIVER!

NOT THE BEST!

Todays announcement was felt to be in the best interests of appeasing the most fans, thus the ability of NA$CAR to sell more tickets next year due to the new “FANS CHOICE AWARD” method of awarding the top prize in NA$CAR!

Racing? who give a fu** about real racing! Certainly not NA$CAR!

chris
07/15/2008 10:06 AM
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The chase is a boon, not a curse. I love the “playoff style” format. It’s one of the things that nascar was missing over the stick-and-ball sports, drama for the season championship. Only in rare occasions previously had there been any drama, as the championship was usually signed, sealed and delivered a couple of months before the end of the season.

Championships being essentially wrapped up by midseason are more common historically than battles to the wire.

It’s nice to have races with championship-implications after (what should be) the Southern 500.

I don’t understand how folks can not like the playoff format. Just look at the Patriots and Giants super bowl this year. A little translation: Were the Patriots robbed by the ridiculous “chase” format that the NFL has adopted. They won all 17 races during the regular season…why should 1 loss make them not the champions?

Are there things I would change about the Chase? Sure…mostly around points and schedule, though. It’s surely better than what we had. Prior to the chase, I didn’t really pay much attention to the “championship” and more treated the races as independent entities.

It’s not a shame, or anything approaching any kind of injustice…it is the rules of the game.

If the #18 is that good, they’ll back it up in the playoffs, just like the Detroit Red Wings did this year. Better than everyone from the first game to the last. If the #18 team doesn’t win, it will be because another team steps it up in the playoffs and finds a way to beat them. It’s all good, and everyone competing knew the rules when they punched their ticket.

Travis Rassat
07/15/2008 10:41 AM
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I don’t think the chase is necessary. You just have to look at last year’s truck championship to see that the points battle can come down to the last race. Mike Skinner led Ron Hornaday by 29 points going into Homestead, and lost by 54.

In IndyCar last year, Dario Franchitti won the driver’s championship only after Scott Dixon ran out of fuel on the last lap of the last race.

In Formula 1 last year, Kimi Raikkonen leapfrogged Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at the Brazilian Grand Prix to come home with the World Championship. This year, they are currently in a three-way tie, with the fourth place guy just 2 points back. Granted, F1 has a much different points scale.

These are just a handful of examples. There’s no need to fabricate the finish with a chase. I think the points scale is key to keeping the championship close. Fewer points should be handed out per race – a max of about 50, tops. I like the idea where only the top 10 finishers get points, with a point bonus for winning the pole, most laps led, and the win. Put a premium on top 10’s, wins, poles, and performance and get guys fighting for these points. Make the pole position actually mean something again. Why reward somebody who stays out an extra lap under caution to collect the same number of bonus points as someone who pushed their skill and equipment to make the pass for the lead under green?

IndyCar has a pretty decent system, in my opinion.

Kevin in SoCal
07/15/2008 12:29 PM
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Douglas, I’ve disagreed with your opinion as much as you’ve disagreed with mine, but thru it all, I have respected yours and have never called you names or insulted you. Please give me the same courtesy.

Gordon81Wins, I agree 10 (12) drivers and 10 races is too much. I would much rather see 5 drivers and 5 races. By the time we get down to 5 races to go, its pretty much down to two or maybe three racers anyway. The Chase worked the first year in 2004, and since then, its been a runaway every year. By reducing the number of races to 5, and then resetting the points, you get a much closer battle, in my opinion.

Travis, how often do points battles like last year’s Trucks happen? Not very often. Especially not in Cup or Nationwide.

Travis Rassat
07/15/2008 01:39 PM
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Kevin,

Sorry, you’re right – my Truck Series example probably wasn’t really relevant to the point that I wanted to make – I probably should’ve just left it off.

What I really wanted to say is that a good points system can result in a close finish without a playoff format. I like a point system that rewards success and punishes for failure. OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh! lol!

Just for fun, I thought I’d look at the close championships over the years. This isn’t very scientific (or meaningful, for that matter – you just got me curious), since I don’t have much time to waste on it. I used 80 points as an arbitrary gauge of “closeness”:

In Cup, from 1975-2003, 16 of the 29 championships (55%) have ended where only 80 points separated the winner from second place. Since they implemented the chase 100% of the championships have been decided by less than 80 points.

In Nationwide, things haven’t been so close – from 1982-2007 only 11 of the 27 championships (40%) have been within 80 points, with a lot of those being total runaways.

In both cases, the close championships have usually only been between 2 drivers.

Anyway, I thought that made for some interesting conversation, at least.

Douglas
07/15/2008 02:00 PM
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Sorry Kevin, but no harm intended, but of course I get my dander up when anyone speaks highly of the “lowly” chase! I will try to do better!

And how in the world can it be called “the playoffs”? When ALL OTHER TEAMS/DRIVERS are still competing with the “playoff” teams.

I did not see the St. Louis Blues in the NHL playoffs!

If someone wants to call this the “playoffs”!

THEN ALL OTHER TEAMS SHOULD BE AT HOME when the twelve (12) chase drivers/cars settle who is champion!

Come to think of it, The Detroit Lions were not in the NFL playoffs either! But they would have been under NA$CAR rules! Can you imagine the most inept team in the NFL competing in the playoffs? And taking points away from a “playoff” team?

And Chris says: “It’s one of the things that nascar was missing over the stick-and-ball sports, drama for the season championship”!

In no other league, i.e., the “stick & ball sports”, do they erase a seasons record and make EVERYONE compete against the “chumpionship teams”!

NO WHERE! Wonder how the Red Wings would feel if they got stripped of their points at seasons end! A season they worked their butts off to collect those precious points!

Lets see now, we are going to determine who is the chumpion for the entire season by taking his points away and starting all over again!

What a joke!

Oh, and lest I forget to mention it!!! DAH!

The way NA$CAR conducts it’s business! With the chase format as it stands today, a driver such as Kyle, who as a reminder, has WON 7 races so far,and counting, could LOSE the Chumpionship to a driver WITH ZERO WINS!

Ponder that one, oh wise people! And then tell me the chase is good!

chris
07/15/2008 02:29 PM
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Douglas, that’s actually a point where I agree with you. I would like to see more emphasis placed on winning (still) than consistency. A win should be an entry requirement. I felt the same way when it looked like Kahne was gonna miss the chase in 2006 while leading the series in Wins.

however: “Wonder how the Red Wings would feel if they got stripped of their points at seasons end! A season they worked their butts off to collect those precious points!”

I’m not sure I understand your point here. The Wings do lose all their points. Even worse, they are on even footing (disregarding home ice as not relevant) with a team that was at exactly .500 (41 wins, 41 losses).

I wouldn’t have a problem with the Chase guys being on a separate “points system” entirely during the chase.
Realistically, if you “won” the regular season, by having the most wins, you have a bigger advantage in the NASCAR playoffs than you do in the NHL playoffs, due to the bonus points for wins actually physically putting you “ahead” of the people who didn’t do as well.

The fact that the other 31 drivers are out there is just an irreconcilable difference. In racing, every team plays in every event. Complaining that St. Louis wasn’t in the NHL playoffs is sorta like complaining that they weren’t playing in a Devils/Islanders game.

While I like the chase, in comparison to what was there before…I don’t disagree with Travis that they could have solved the problem with a better points system.

Points for only for the top-N finishers works well, but to compensate for the fact that Cup sends cars past-43 home, you’d have to do it a little differently. Points for the top-10, and 10 bonus points to everyone that qualifies (to reward those that qualified vs. those that didn’t)..and then 3 bonus points (or something) for people that attempt to qualify. (to reward those that show up vs. those that don’t)

But, I’m sure some marketing folks (eyes Nextel) thought that a Playoff would just be pure awesomeness.

Some folks will always see it as “contrived” excitement, and you’re entitled to that. But, every restriction on competition, at its root, is contrived to achieve a certain result.

Kevin in SoCal
07/15/2008 03:53 PM
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Travis, thank you for looking that up. You have proven that the Chase works to keep at least two drivers eligible to win the title at the last race.

I have an idea on the points and to make for better racing all throughout the event. Give 6 points per lap for leading, 5 points per lap for being in 2-5, 4 points for 6-10, 3 points for 11-15, 2 points for 16-20, and 1 point for 21-25. These points are for EACH LAP. That means, in order to gain points, you must be racing in the top 25 each lap. That will put a bigger effort into qualifying too. The only problem is a 500 lap race will pay more points than a 200 lap race. What can we do about that?

Douglas
07/15/2008 08:07 PM
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So funny! So very funny!

Trying to explain, trying to understand, trying to change the way a Chumpion is selected in the wide world of NA$CAR!

Hey!!! I have an idea!!!

How about running 36 races and then count the points of the leader at the end of the 36 races!

WOW!! Am I BRILLIANT? Or what?

(please don’t answer that!)

Oh, RE: The Red Wings! The intent was to suggest that by stripping away points, ala NA$CAR! The Red Wings would then have to go back and play Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago, and so on! Via the “working” point system in the NHL, those teams DID NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS AND WERE NO LONGERPLAYING THE GAME”!

So if anyone wants to compare NA$CAR to the stick and balls sports, at playoff time anyway!

Some amount of teams & drivers need to go home after 26 races!

Apples to apples!

Or in the case of NA$CAR!!

NUTS TO NUTS!

dawg
07/15/2008 08:48 PM
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You Sir, are absolutely correct!

It is a shame that the Silver shovel, fat boy that’s running the show. Has seen fit to churn up artificial excitement, by giving us a 10 race champion. Rather than a season champion. Now there is no way that, say a Jeff Gordon. Can have a fair run at the benchmark that was set by Petty, & Earnhardt.

ACEfromTN
07/15/2008 08:56 PM
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I’m not going to address the Chase format, but I do offer a reason or why the truck series offers closer points battles.

1) The obvious one is that the competition is relatively close. I’m guessing this is what NASCAR wanted to achieve with the COT but has failed to do so.

2) A shorter season. The truck series only runs 25 versus 35 in Nationwide and 26 in the cup “regular season” and 36 overall. So, there is less time for positions to get spread out.

3) Truck fields are limited to 36 trucks while the Nationwide and cup series have 43 cars. i.e. A truck driver in last place will get 55 points versus 34 in the other series. This means that you can drop 140 points in a race versus 161. Or, a bad race won’t hurt as much.

Josh Brown
07/17/2008 11:11 AM
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How do these guys keep getting this wrong?
Carl was penalized at Vegas and lost 10 chase bonus points. Kyle has a 50 point lead on Carl. Get with it guys. I know it doesn’t make a big difference, but it makes you look incompetent when you don’t pay attention. FAIL.

Tom
07/19/2008 07:39 AM
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You know, NASCAR got to where it is by being itself not a wannabe “ball-franchise”, now they call the scoreboard a leader-board? sounds like golf, b.s. to me. To those who like the green/white/checker deal go watch drag racing every race is a green white checker on a quarter mile track, I think if a driver was cleaning every ones clock for the past twenty laps then what the heck finish under the yellow before someone gets killed with the “checkers or wreckers” mentality some drives use.

Contact Vito Pugliese