1. The Dale Earnhardt Jr. 400 – Oh, you mean that wasn’t the name of Saturday night’s race? Could have fooled me. Earnhardt’s odds of making the Chase were ridiculously slim going into Richmond, making ESPN/ABC’s singular focus on him both ridiculous and way over the top.
2. Abracadabra – And presto, chango. Wave the magic Chase wand and watch Jeff Gordon‘s 410-point lead over Jimmie Johnson change into a 20-point deficit, just like that. Think that was a big change? Kurt Busch went from 11th place and 657 points to fifth place and 40 points out in one night. Now, we will have to spend the rest of the season listening to NASCAR boast about how “close” the competition is for the title. Am I the only one still bothered by this contrivance?
3. C’mon John – I like SPEED’s John Roberts, but I couldn’t believe what I heard him say on Victory Lane after the Richmond race. Roberts said that if the No. 8 team wins a race in the Chase, “that will get the attention right back on Earnhardt Jr.” Whew, what a relief – because there certainly hasn’t been enough attention on him lately.
4. Missing What Matters – I think most race fans could forgive a network for missing one restart per race, but ESPN/ABC was just pathetic in this area on Saturday, missing at least five restarts in Richmond. In my opinion, that is just unacceptable.
5. Champion Chasers – Maybe there’s a reason why most of these guys are in the Chase. Five of the 12 contenders are current or former Cup champions – Johnson, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, two-time champ Tony Stewart and four-time champ Gordon. Kenseth and Johnson are the only drivers to make the Chase in all four years since its inception. On the flip side, Clint Bowyer is the only driver in this year’s Chase who hasn’t won a Cup race, and, in fact, has never won one.
6. IROC ‘n’ Roll – The Chevy Rock ‘n’ Roll 400 was the 11th of 16 Car of Tomorrow races this year, and it was nice to hear Bobby Labonte say out loud what fans have been saying about the boxy beast all year: “Yea, this Car of Tomorrow, they all run the same speed. It’s IROC cars, so oh well.” And look at what happened to the IROC series this year.
7. Darn Those Donkeys – Said Greg Biffle after getting caught up in an early wreck: “I qualified bad and that’s what you get when you qualify bad – you start in the back with all the donkeys and the guys that can’t drive. I guess I can’t drive because I qualified bad to start with. I’ve got a really fast Ford Fusion, but I was just back there with the guys that can’t drive, and they run into each other and caused a big wreck.” I’m sorry – donkeys?
8. Hendrick Hottest – Three Hendrick drivers qualified in the top-three spots at Richmond – Johnson, Kyle Busch and Gordon, who started one, two and three, respectively. Johnson and Gordon also finished in the top five and now occupy the top-two spots in the Chase. After another “Dead Engine Inside” day for DEI’s Earnhardt Jr. – his fifth of the year – you can understand why he’s looking for greener pastures in 2008. Who’s on board for the conspiracy theory that DEI is intentionally giving Junior subpar equipment?
9. Kahne Gaining – Momentum, that is. Kasey Kahne‘s eighth-place finish on Saturday was his third straight top 10, marking the first time all season that the No. 9 team has strung together three top-10 finishes in a row. Said Kahne, “I drove it as hard as I could. That’s another top 10, three straight now. That’s good. Maybe this will create some momentum for the last 10 races.”
10. Mt. NASCAR – Here’s an interesting bit of news: When 52-year-old Patrick Hickey reached the top of Mt. Everest on May 24th of this year, what flag did he plant on the 29,035-foot peak? The NASCAR flag, of course! A devoted NASCAR fan, Hickey told The New York Times that one of the hardest parts of his climb was the lack of NASCAR news, especially regarding his favorite driver, Gordon. Eventually, fans kept Hickey updated on the races via his blog, and NASCAR has arranged a meeting between the climber and his driver in October.