With ten races to go, and the championship field officially whittled down from 43 to 12, the first round of the Chase makes its first trip to Chicagoland. Now that Richmond and all of its drama and action–Chase and non-Chase related–in the history books, we have time for this week’s “Five Points To Ponder”.
*ONE: The Chase Now Starts At Chicagoland*
Ever since the inception of the Chase format, the playoffs have perennially started each and every year at New Hampshire. Not this year, as now Chicagoland gets their race date shuffled to the first race during the Chase. While New Hampshire is considered a “short track” by many, the series now opens its Chase at–surprise, surprise–yet another “cookie-cutter” track. This is not something fans want to see as these tracks generally seem to have the excitement and appeal of a live-stock show in an agriculture center. Chicago will be the first of five “cookie-cutter” events that are part of the Chase. Is this what NASCAR fans want to see? Not by a long-shot, but as long as Brian France stays in charge, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
*TWO: Head-Games & Head-Cases*
Regardless of which driver fans pull for, the big topic around the proverbial NASCAR water cooler is how exactly will this “ill will” between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson manifest itself in the coming weeks and how will it affect each driver in the Chase? While Johnson is trying to downplay any thought of Kurt Busch messing with his mind, it appears Kurt has managed to get inside the five-time defending champion’s head; something that fellow Chase contender Denny Hamlin and Mike Ford tried to do last year and failed miserably.
For Johnson to uncharacteristically dump another driver as pay-back is a sign that Johnson may be letting the elder Busch brother get to him. These two drivers cannot stand one another and pay-back through-out the Chase cannot and will not be ruled out. This is a potential feud that could get even uglier in the weeks to come.
Still, the headgames clearly didn’t stay entirely on the track. If television viewers did not scour the Internet for information, they would have thought after the ABC telecast that Kurt Busch had come out the better man in the whole situation with Jimmie Johnson. However, Kurt reverted back to his old immature brat-like ways going after a reporter after the race and ripping up the notes of another journalist. As much as it seems like Kurt’s in Jimmie’s head, perhaps Johnson is equally in Kurt’s head. Of course, it has not been a good year for Busch, personally, with he and his wife filing for divorce, but to go after a journalist is completely and utterly uncalled for.
While both are in one another’s heads, it seems as if Johnson is seemingly less phased by the on-and-off track barbs between the two drivers.
*THREE: Closure & Closers*
Since 2003, Kevin Harvick and wife DeLana have owned and operated Kevin Harvick Inc. and cultivated it into a successful Nationwide & Truck Series operation. That eight-year run, unfortunately, came to an end this past week. For Harvick, personally, it felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of his shoulders and perhaps that provided the catalyst for Harvick’s dominating performance at Richmond this past weekend. While it remains to be seen if Harvick can somehow parlay his lessened burdens into a Chase championship, one has to certainly think that a more focused than ever Kevin Harvick could very well spell, to quote Travis Tritt, “t-r-o-u-b-l-e” for his fellow Chase contenders.
*FOUR: A Wildcard System with No Wildcard Entries*
Part of the overhaul of the points system this year was the introduction of the “wild card” spots for the Chase. Instead of the Top 12 making it into the postseason, it would be the Top 10 and two others in the Top 20 with the most wins that were given the opportunity to win the coveted Cup. Well, the Top 12 in the regular season managed to score the most wins. So…nothing different there.
Brad Keselowski finished the regular season 11th in points and with his mere three victories, snared the first wildcard slot. Except unlike last year, the late season spectacle won’t start the Chase seeded fourth between Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth. He will receive no bonus points for his wins. With the powers that be declaring that more and more emphasis will be placed on winning with this new points system… why not reward those who trotted out and accomplished just that?
*FIVE: Chasing The Cup*
As Round One of the ten-round Chase for the Cup draws near, the thing that is going to ultimately win the Chase is not so much victories, but the name of the game is _consistency_. Of course, the amount of wins accumulated in the first 26 races can help the Top 10, but at the end of the day, the driver who wins the Chase will be whoever can be consistently in the top 10 most every week with no hiccups in the process.
In terms of an early favorite, easy money still goes to Jimmie Johnson, who has been one of the more consistent drivers down the stretch prior to his difficulties at Richmond. But one cannot count out drivers such as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, or even Brad Keselowski at being guys to topple “King Jimmie”. How will it all play out? Tune in for the final ten races because it’ll be one hell of a ride.
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