NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: September 8th, 2011

“How To Beat The Chase Sysytem”

Since 2004, the Sprint Cup Chase For The Cup has been heavily hyped to try and generate additional interest into the sport during football season, a time when NASCAR viewership has a noticeable decline due to football fans going back to watching either college football or the NFL. And NASCAR has been trying endlessly since 2004 to pimp out the concept that the “Chase For The Cup” is a fresh, new, and fool-proof idea in a motorsports world that, in the mind of Brian Z. France, has gotten more stale than day-old bread. The truth is, the Chase has changed very little, if anything in the NASCAR land-scape. Despite the sanctioning body’s best efforts to make wins more important, consistency, or even “stroking” has proven to win championships.

Case in point, Jimmie Johnson has won the last five championships by, more or less, running 7th every week during the final ten races. He and crew chief Chad Knaus have figured out a way to beat the system, and for that, they should be commended. When other teams try to rely on the hell-bent, pedal to the metal, go-for-broke style to win races, the thing lost in the true art of chasing for a championship is the word “consistency”. These days, a driver leading the points after the first 26 races means about as much as the Harlem Globetrotters continually beating the hell out of the hap-less Washington Generals.

It’s almost as if a team can generally “stroke” the first 26 races to coast their way into the “Chase”. Oh sure, the wins a driver gets in the first 26 races do help in the overall standings at the first of the season. But so many of those teams peter out in the last ten races that start off with a bang, yet end their season with a whimper. Fans want to know why Jimmie’s dominance has yet to be stopped? Simple. Jimmie and crew chief Chad Knaus have figured out that they don’t have to punish their equipment to make the top 10 in the first 26 races, so they save their stuff for the final ten races and run about 7th each week of the Chase, generally without any hiccups, and at the end of the year, Jimmie hoists up yet another championship. Is it thrilling? Not by any means. But it’s smart racing. Hell, it’s “points-racing” at it’s finest and that, dear readers, is what wins championships.

Drivers such as Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and (to an extent) Brad Keselowski have all piled on impressive consistency streaks for a spell of time. But the Achillies’ heel with these drivers is that it generally doesn’t last forever (although the jury is still out on whether Keselowski can perhaps parlay his consistency as of late into a championship.) Johnson can stretch out his consistency over the course of an entire NASCAR season, so for those that decry his lack of victories, remember that drivers such as Terry Labonte (1984 & 1996) and Matt Kenseth (2003) had two victories or less all season and still wound up winning the eventual championship. The “Just win, baby!” mantra so famously attributed to Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, at least in the world of NASCAR should truly be “Just score points, baby!”

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