Driver opinions about the excitement level in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seem mixed, at best. Some think it’s been solid so far, while others said it was kind of tame. So here are five outcomes to Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway that if they happen -- and they could --would add new fire to the Chase.
A driver outside the Chase wins
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 2014, a non-Chase driver has never won a Chase race. That’s 0-for-22 in Chase races so far. If a Kasey Kahne or a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or a Ryan Newman could somehow step up, the water coolers would be buzzing Monday morning. And if Danica Patrick won, the entire Internet surely would break.
Tony Stewart advances
Now in his final season, the three-time Sprint Cup champion has what so few other drivers do: Charisma, popularity and the ability to polarize fans. Stewart comes into Dover 15th in points, but if somehow advances to the Round of 12, his legion of fans would be thrilled and his haters would be furious -- both good outcomes for NASCAR. Love him or hate him, a Stewart advancement would have everyone talking.
Getty ImagesRobert Laberge
A favorite gets taken out
Last year, Jimmie Johnson came into this race 27 points ahead of the Chase cutoff, but a freak part failure knocked him out of the playoffs in the opening round. Going into Sunday’s race, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Johnson, Chase Elliott, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson are all inside the cutoff by 26 points or fewer -- less than the gap Johnson had last year. One of these guys could get knocked out this time around; in fact, I expect it.
Getty ImagesMatt Sullivan
A fight breaks out
In racing as in wrestling, hate is great. If two drivers get into it on Sunday, it would set off a furious debate among fans. Remember Joey Logano vs. Matt Kenseth last year? Kenseth vs. Brad Keselowski in 2014? Keselowski vs. Jeff Gordon in 2014? Gordon vs. Jeff Burton in 2010? Nothing gets the emotions stirred up like some old-fashioned driver-on-driver hating. Boys, have at it. Please.
The 88 wins
Let’s face it, if you’re a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, the 2016 season has sucked. NASCAR most popular driver will end up missing fully half of the scheduled races on the calendar. Earnhardt will be at Dover on Sunday when Jeff Gordon will drive the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. A Gordon victory with Earnhardt in attendance would probably be the biggest story of the entire weekend, including the NFL and College Football. That would push every button and trip every trigger with fans.