Credit: Mike Neff

Did You Notice? … One Saving Grace That Lies Ahead

Did You Notice? … How much of a crapshoot Talladega makes the next round of this Chase? No one has an advantage on paper entering this three-race sprint as all 12 drivers are tied for the point lead. That means it’s nearly impossible to create a 47-point cushion, locking yourself into the next round before the closest thing NASCAR has to Russian Roulette. No one, not even the red hot Kevin Harvick, was able to create such a cushion in the last round of the Chase, with everyone but winners Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski vulnerable to fall out of the top 12 entering Dover.

Looking at results from this spring and it’s clear how Talladega can jumble up the field. Here’s how the Contender round would shake out if everyone matched their finishes from Kansas, Charlotte, and Talladega in May…

Kevin Harvick – 3125

Kasey Kahne – 3108

Jimmie Johnson – 3106* (won Charlotte, would advance)

Kyle Busch – 3098

Denny Hamlin – 3095* (won Talladega, would advance)

Carl Edwards – 3095

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Past performance may indicate that Harvick is in great shape heading into the Contender Round. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Jeff Gordon – 3090* (won Kansas, would advance)

Ryan Newman – 3089

——

Joey Logano – 3086

Matt Kenseth – 3085

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 3085

Brad Keselowski – 3084

Note that Penske Racing’s duo, perhaps the most impressive during the first round of this Chase,would be sitting on the outside looking in. Both were involved in Talladega wrecks, and without a win, their top-13 finishes at Kansas and Charlotte just wouldn’t be enough to move on. Earnhardt, too, was doomed by a ‘Dega disaster, a 26th-place result leaving him four points behind the cutline in his final season with Steve Letarte.

Chances are, Penske will be stronger the second time around at Charlotte and Kansas, helping protect them from Talladega tragedy. But take a look at who’s second in points in this projection: Kasey Kahne. Now that he’s squeaked into the top 12, the next three races shape up well for a driver who excels on 1.5-mile ovals. And after he was seemingly hit with everything but the kitchen sink at plate races throughout all of 2013, Kahne is due for a little good luck at ‘Dega.

No one knows exactly how this next portion of the Chase will go, especially with the unpredictability of plate racing. But hey, at least NASCAR is guaranteed one race that won’t be as anticlimactic as last Sunday’s race at Dover. It’s important for them to have something to market after the first three events wound up below fan expectations.

Did You Notice? … 16 of 30 cautions, since the start of the regular season finale at Richmond, have been caused by “competition” reasons or debris? That’s an astounding 53.3 percent, a number that could have wound up far higher if not for a well-timed yellow that bunched up the field at New Hampshire. Remember, the wreckfest over the final 40 percent of the race would never have happened if the field remained spread out.

Is there really that much debris spread around the track these days? Probably not. It’s a subjective call officials can make virtually anytime. But to have such a high number of them during the Chase, when most fans and teams would prefer to have the race play out, is a little surprising. It’s to the point even Kahne was surprised there wasn’t a late yellow bunching up the field at Dover, relieved drivers were allowed to race for their spot in the top 12 instead of having their fate decided by a hot dog wrapper, then an awkward double-file restart.

But isn’t it weird we could have had two Chase races – heck, perhaps all three – go caution free without interference from the tower? Are the cars, despite carrying more speed, that stable that drivers can go 1,000 miles at three different ovals without wrecking? Or is there an element of conservatism involved with the racing now, survival more important than surging toward a win? Whatever the reasons, it’s pretty bothersome artificial yellows are needed in order to keep the field close. And even then… it’s no guarantee of success, as we saw at Dover on Sunday.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off…

– Rumors surround the future of GO FAS Racing’s No. 32 and Joe Falk’s No. 33 for 2015. Neither one has had a consistent driver all season, focusing on “pay to play” deals and needing significant financial support to survive. In the case of GO FAS, one of their main sponsors, C&J Energy Services will leave along with Terry Labonte after Talladega. Labonte is expected to retire for good following the final plate race of the year.

– Keep an eye on Danica Patrick this weekend in Kansas. Her seventh-place effort this spring was the best of her career at that point in time and she’s shown a

Patrick stole the show earlier this spring at Kansas Speedway. Can she do it again? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Patrick stole the show earlier this spring at Kansas Speedway. Can she do it again? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

knack for adapting to 1.5-mile ovals as of late. With four top-20 runs in the last five races, the No. 10 car has hit a bit of a rhythm and could be a darkhorse to steal a top-5 finish straight under the nose of Chase rivals. Kyle Larson, along with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (who nearly won at this track in 2013) are also good picks to spoil the playoff party. There are other drivers racing too this time of year…

Chase Elliott, over in the Nationwide Series, has 27 lead-lap finishes in 28 races, never failing to finish. For a rookie driver who never even ran in the series before this year, that is one impressive track record for an 18-year-old teenager on the rise. It would be a shock at this point with just five races left if Elliott lost his series point lead to teammate Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler, or any other challengers. This rookie is coming to a Sprint Cup race near you, by February 2016 at the absolute latest.

Kyle Larson has been impressive, yes, in his rookie campaign on the Cup circuit. The problem? His three top-10 finishes during the Chase alone equal the amount all other rookies (we started with eight total) have accumulated all season long. NASCAR needed more than one driver to make an impact; Austin Dillon, while steady, has been virtually invisible since the Daytona 500 and no other first-year driver ever even popped up on the radar screen. New faces lead to new interest but unfortunately, in that department, the sport keeps falling short.

– A 2.3 Nielsen rating for NASCAR at Dover, announced Tuesday, made it one of the ten lowest-rated Chase races of all time. New format, same old problem…

– The NASCAR-themed Café at Universal Studios is closing at the end of the year. That means in the last five years, we’ve lost NASCAR Speedparks, Daytona USA, several independently-owned short tracks (Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia is the latest on the list), SPEED network… what is going on with stock car racing in this country?

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About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    OMG, I could not finish this article. Wow, so are you saying that Talladega is a fair God to those with less than stellar results and it will be justifiable if a top seeded team got wrecked to advance the less deserving, based on a high probability of final placement by luck and not earned? Sounds like liberal wealth distribution logic. Those teams on the top of the leaderboard worked their asses off all year to get knocked out on total bullshit plate racing and having the less deserving team squeak through on luck? What the hell is the point of all this if that is the case. Heck call in David Ragen, get David Gilliland. hoist that trophy boys..at Homestead. This logic is why Nascar is dying a slow and painful death, that fans are heartbroken to see. A blow engine is a blow engine and other factors are part of racing, heartbreaking as it is. To put a good team behind in a 3 race playoff with one race being not a true race at all, is cruel and without the spirit of competition and well..true racing. My two cents, which doesn’t mean a hill of beans in Brian France’s world.

    • Avatar

      kb, All you need do is read the writers bio to know that he is a wholly owned subsidiary of NASCAR. His comparison of Dover and Talledega is mind numbing. Say what you will about Dover, it takes skill to win there. Talledega, like all plate racing is more a matter of luck. To even suggest that we should all be excited because luck could play a larger part in determining a Champion than ability doesn’t pass the smell test. What we have is just another NASCAR shill trying to gin up some phony Chase excitement. These articles leave me wondering, do they think that the remaining race fans are so stupid as to be this easily manipulated?

      • Avatar

        are you nuts?
        do you know this writers history?
        I agree with your thought more often than not, but here you are way out of line.
        way…..
        this guy is not a shill. he was fired from a day job for going outside the lines.
        shame on you.

        and

        as a matter of opinion…
        dover used to be a track that took skill to win at. not any more. have you been to the place?
        i was floored the first time i saw the cars sail off into the first corner in the second round of qualifying (when there was a real second round.) those guys were driving at the very limits of the machinery risking life and limb. these days it’s just another aero track with 43 entrants that’s too fast to pass at with a car that might as well be in a “spec series’. i’m so sick of this crap where the car with the most money behind it wins as long as there isn’t any bad luck.

        I’m almost ready to say that the new chase is great… the best thing that happened in a long while.
        it’s a total 4 car crap shoot.
        at least someone else has a snowball’s chance.

        but then again this once rabid fan no longer goes to any cup races and will not watch without a fast forward button.

        thanks for ruining everything nascrap

        god i sound like a bitter old man.
        what have these people done to a once passionate fan…..

        hey kid…. GET OFF MY LAWN

  2. Avatar

    “Yellow Gate” has been going on long before “Spingate” ever happened.

  3. Avatar

    I think this new system will increase the probability that chase drivers will ride at the back until the end at Talladega. With this new system there is no way a RP race should be allowed to carry that much weight in determining the championship. It is piling a crapshoot on top of another crapshoot.

    Glad to see Dover ratings were down. Keep trying Brian. The more you F with it the more fans bleed out from the sport.

  4. Avatar

    There shouldn’t be a “Chase”. It’s always been a bad way to award the Championship. They’ve simply made it far worse in this year’s edition.

    Why would a fan want to tune into a Chase race if their driver is getting ignored? The broadcast only covers Chase drivers and, even at that, they really focused on the ones that were in danger of being eliminated.

    Meanwhile, there was actually a race being run. Race fans tune in to see the race. When you don’t show it to them, they get bored and tune out.

    This must be unknown information as far as NASCAR and its broadcasters are concerned. Lowest rated race, yet? How low can we go?

    • Avatar

      Just how many fans do you think there are of drivers that are not in the Chase? Excluding Tony Stewart, and Princess Patrick, of course. I would bet the vast majority of fans are fans of the drivers that made the Chase.

      • Avatar

        Tell that to my wife who may be the biggest Jamie McMurray fan on the planet. She’s also a big fan of Kyle Larson. And though he’s not my favorite, I like Brian Vickers even though he drives for a buffoon.

      • Avatar

        Even at that, Kevin, they didn’t cover all the Chase drivers very well. Only if you were battling right at the front or were on the bubble did you get much of a mention. All this while there was actually a race to be covered I might add. Race coverage is bad enough during the “regular” season but during the Chase it gets very bad very quickly. And it will only get worse with more eliminations. How much coverage will the 4 drivers eliminated get from here on out?

  5. Avatar

    So, the first ‘tension filled elimination race’ has been run, and ratings are down. Gee whiz, what a surprise.

  6. Avatar

    Sorry to hear about Gresham Motorsports Park. That is a great local racetrack, on par with Irwindale & Kern County as far as being a top short track. What a shame.

  7. Avatar

    I saw a video game called Daytona USA and a museum that will be back in two years under a new name: Daytona 500 Experience. And Regan Smith the title winner would be the least shocking other scenario. If Chase had a crash or mechanical DNF, Smith would take the points lead under the mentioned circumstances and maybe keep it, depending on how much of a lead he had and how many races are left.