Race Weekend Central

NASCAR’s Own Post-Season: The Chase That Will Actually Be Fun to Watch

There’s one positive thing about the inception of the Chase.  When we take a week off in July, we can say we’re two-thirds of the way through the regular season, not only halfway through the year.  That’s something, isn’t it?  In fact, the Chase has materially changed the way we perceive the pattern of the year.  We’re about to step into the last seven regular races of 2014, preparing for the final 10 race finale.  I believe NASCAR has actually achieved their play-off.  We talk about it, watch it, dissect it and continually pump ourselves up to reach the pinnacle of excitement–a four-man showdown in Homestead.

For an eternity we’ve always been known as the NOT stick-and-ball sport.  We didn’t have that post-season hysteria that takes over the other members of acronym central.  NASCAR fans could poke fun at the NBA and NHL, who seem to spend half their year playing the “real” game–because nothing counts until then, don’t you know.

Hysteria or not, we can’t deny that all eyes are glued on how this year’s latest incarnation of the Chase will come about.  Is it possible for Aric Almirola to make it all the way to the Final Four?  Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

We know the regular race winners are in the first segment of the Chase: Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., Bad Brad, Jimmie Johnson, Cousin Carl, M&M boy, Sliced Bread (yeah–I’m having a little fun here,) Denny Hamlin, Happy Harvick, the other Busch brother and the aforementioned Petty driver.  This leaves five more drivers to fill out the field–currently that would include Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer, Menard and the rookie Kyle Larson.  After that, we’ll be playing elimination rounds based off of wins and points accumulations.

We can probably write Almirola and Larson off going into the second round.  Winning a race once in your life or finishing decently much of the time won’t get you the Cup.  After that pair are dismissed, we’ll be left with the usual players.  We may end up trading Tony Stewart or Kahne out for one of the other add-ons, but by July we pretty much know how every team is going to perform through the end of November.  So, where will the surprises come from?

The excitement will be generated by the format.  You’ve got to either finish in the Top 5 or win to stay in the game.  You won’t be able to play a careful points race.  Either put all your cards on the table, or it’s time to depart.  Win or lose.  Sudden death.

 

And like in the World Series, there will be enough time for a team to solidify their often missing post-season championship form.  Mulligans will be allowed during the first two segments of the Chase–like dropping the first three games out of seven.  But once you’ve only got eight cars left in the field, there’s no room remaining for a mistake. Any error.

We can probably predict who those last eight teams will be right now:  Gordon, Johnson, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Earnhardt, Kenseth, and Edwards.  That’s right–the teams who play hardball and have hired seasoned players.  We can cheer all we want for those left behind, but if you want odds, the short list is a safe bet.

What of that final four?  Hmmm?  That’s right, take the eight and throw half of them out.  Who will run just a little bit worse, make the gas mileage mistake, have their equipment fail or stumble on a pit stop?  Remember, everything you’ve done before the cut to the eight doesn’t matter in the least little bit.  The slate is wiped clean after each elimination round.  What you do today will determine whether or not you’re running for the Cup in Homestead.

Ah, that’s the point in the season when it will actually all mean something.  Consistency in the Top 10 be damned.  The teams that have won in the Chase, resisted making errors and remained in the Top 5 will have the chance.  And that’s when it will matter who wins today’s race.  There will be no complicated explanations of bonus points or laps led.  Who is in front?  That will mean everything, just as the final score of any other post-season ball game tells the real tale.

I can’t say I’ve always been a fan of the Chase.  Too often it fell victim to the amorphous difference between Victory Lane and doing well.  But they may have actually got it right this year.

Four drivers who have survived enter into the arena.  One will come out.  Simple and elegant.

But all that’s far in the future.  What about now?  How can NASCAR keep my interest until the gladiatorial bouts begin?  Well, that’s a column for another day.

2014 Sonya Strictly by the Stats

Top Three Rookies for 2014 EnjoyIllinois.com 300

Nationwide Edition

1.) No. 9 Chase Elliott Started 3rd Finished 1st

2.) No. 3 Ty Dillon Started 2nd Finished 5th

3.) No. 60 Chris Buescher Started 13th Finished 8th 

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