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(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Racing to the Point: Despite Chaos, This Season’s Main Characters Still Alive

This season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup is like watching the final season of a really good, violent drama. You’ve come to terms with the fact that characters are going to be killed off, but you’re hoping it’s done the right way. In other words, don’t kill off Walter White and Rick Grimes in the season’s first episode.

They’re the reason people watch. They’ve carried the show this far. As a fan, you’re just hoping the writers and producers don’t screw it up.

That’s how I’ve viewed the Chase for the Sprint Cup, at least. I wasn’t rooting for Aric Almirola or Greg Biffle to defy the odds, get to Homestead-Miami Speedway and somehow raise the trophy. I didn’t watch the first 26 weeks of the regular season to see all hell break loose in an ill-conceived playoff format that crowns Lake Speed the champion.

I wanted to see the four drivers – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick — who have dominated the season settle it amongst themselves. This is, after all, a championship we’re talking about. Include the drivers who have combined for 18 of the 32 race victories this season, and all of the Chase races seem kind of important.

Somehow, it happened. It was all by a stroke of luck, really. Luck is king when Talladega Superspeedway is involved. Sunday’s results aren’t indicative at all to the racing this season, but appear to be what would happen if you picked names out of a hat.

I don’t know the exact top 10 from Sunday, but it looked something like this:

1. Brad Keselowski
2. Bobby Hillin, Jr.
3. Landon Cassill
4. Ron Bouchard
5. Dave Marcis
6. Rich Bickle
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Shawna Robinson
9. Matt Kenseth
10. Kevin Conway

It was a good old-fashioned crapshoot. What a race to end an elimination round in a championship. Kyle Busch had done everything right in the Chase so far, but one wreck in front of him and one Austin Dillon behind him and he’s out. That’s all it took. Dillon, by the way, still hasn’t slowed down for that wreck.

In the crime drama, our heroes are pretty much guaranteed to somehow dodge the machine-gun bullets in the last battle scene. It’s not real, so that makes it easier. Unfortunately, Talladega is, and Busch was hit.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Despite best efforts to the contrary, suddenly Kyle Busch’s championship hopes vanished. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne were the other three eliminated. Johnson and Earnhardt had a pair of bad weeks leading up to it and weren’t championship-caliber looking, so seeing them cast off wasn’t much of a surprise. Kahne might as well have been an extra in the Chase. I’m not sure anyone’s going to notice he’s missing.

Kahne was nearly spared in favor of ousting an essential character, though. Gordon finished only three points ahead as the final driver to make the cutoff. If Gordon dropped a couple more spots and Kahne grabbed a couple more in the three- and four-wide swarm coming to the checkered flag, Four-Time, after an unbelievably consistent four-win year, could be out.

That would have caused a mutiny – or, at least, there should’ve been.

Keselowski is the luckiest to survive. He won a race he had to win at a track at which he had little control in order to advance. NASCAR lucked out with both drivers, then who now emerge into the next round as favorites. It’s a good thing, too, because their fan bases have been on edge about the playoff format – and most of all, the Talladega elimination race. If they ever needed proof that NASCAR’s top decision makers care far more about ratings than they do about crowning rightful champions, Talladega is it.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times published a story saying television ratings are down for this year’s Chase compared to last year. More drama than ever is being manufactured, two legitimate championship contenders were nearly knocked out near the Chase’s halfway point, and the whole driving force behind it all – TV ratings – are going down.

Let’s just hope NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France doesn’t accidentally tune in to a race and get another idea. (The World Series is about to start so he should be occupied. That has more of the Game 7 moments for which France has been searching.) However, despite his best efforts to screw it up this year, causing perhaps another drop in viewership it appears we still have a legitimate battle for the Sprint Cup championship in front of us.

There are four episodes to go and all of the main characters are still alive. The schedule for the next three races (or elimination round) heads to tracks — Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix — where the eight drivers left should be able to settle it fairly among themselves. The final four races kind of resemble what a championship run should look like.

Congratulations to Logano, Keselowski, Gordon and Harvick for making it through that mess.

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About Brett Poirier

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Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    How does Daytona manage to think this crapshoot is so popular when ratings and attendance continually drop? You can only blame the NFL/baseball playoffs so often. Brian really thinks this chase is a brilliant idea adored by the fans? Really?

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      Brian is capable of a massive case of self-delusion. Years ago when asked the question about fans not liking the chase, his response was “someone doesn’t like it?”. Totally self-absorbed and out of touch, but he runs the show, so the fans have only 2 choices – watch or quit.

  2. Avatar

    Just think what Rick Hendrick would be saying if Gordon had missed out also

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      WTF do you think he’d say?

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      I think Hendrick would have been quite embarrassed if Gordon would have gotten caught up in one of the wrecks by running at the back of the field. How stupid is that? The 24 team is damn lucky they’re one of the surviving 8. Look where that plan got the 18 team.

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        With two GWC finishes do you really think it mattered. Jimmie led the most laps and ran up front all day, he finished right in front of Jeff. Dale ran up front all day and got caught up in a wreck. The point being that there is no failsafe strategy at a crapshoot restrictor plate race.

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    Stupid things keep coming out of the addled brain of Brian France. His father and grandfather must be turning in their graves wondering what is going with their successful series. Brian has worked very successfully to drive off his base of long time fans and to cater to the video game crew who have long since moved on to something else. We used to go to races and certainly didn’t miss any on TV but we have gradually stopped even watching them on TV and just checking results on the internet. i suspect we won’t even do that next year. My favourite driver is still in the chase but even if he wins i won’t think much of it. It’s a phoney championships. Why didn’t they just draw the names out of the hat or have a crap shoot. It would be just as meaningful.

  4. Avatar

    “and the whole driving force behind it all – TV ratings – are going down.”

    That is the most maddening thing about this. Brian keeps trying to make fans embrace the chase and fans keep leaving as evidenced by ratings and attendance. You cannot make customers like your product. You have to tailor your product to your customers. What is so hard about that concept that this jackass can’t figure out.

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      Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

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        BillB, Brian France inherited the job, he did not get it based on any performance criteria whatsoever. Given that, his near complete incompetence is really not surprising. As to the Chase ………………..Oh, sorry dozed off.

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          If the truth were known the real criteria is simple. Is there more money in the bank or less? Answer that and you will know whether they share your concerns. All the rest is BS.

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      Oh man, Bill, I agree with you completely, but IMO the answer is the TV $ keeps rolling in, no matter how many people stop watching, so Brainless doesn’t care. NASCAR’s PR people say that people now follow the races via “other” ways. Well duh, of course they do. They are correct in that but only BECA– USE fans have become frustrated with the product provided on TV and NASCAR’s crappy product to boot.

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        Very true GinaV24 but….
        what good is it to TV if fans don’t watch the commercials?
        At some point a critical mass will be reached where so many fans have left that it will affect the TV contract dollars. Obviously, with new contracts being signed, that won’t be for several years but if things continue like they have been, eventually the TV dollars will evaporate as well.

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          Ha, yeah, I wonder that myself – I never watch commercials during the race, I either change the channel or go do a chore. I find that I can get a lot done in the minutes in between “racing action”. Even the side by side BS that ESPN does won’t hold me at the tv because they simply show an ad related to a single featured car.

          BZF may be an idiot about racing IMO but apparently he can sell ice at the North Pole because these TV contracts and “official” NASCAR sponsors keep signing deals while many teams struggle for funding.

          I wish I could find the article about NASCAR not caring about the ratings in the beginning of the year because they were expecting to make it up in the last 10 races. Ratings don’t appear to be up for many of the races in the chase and that’s WITH Jr in the hunt. It will be really interesting to see if there is more fall off now that he is out. It will also be interesting to see if ESPN covers Jr & JJ in the hopes of keeping their fans involved. I know they ignored Gordon after he fell out of contention a few years ago – even though he had top 5 finishes after that.