NASCAR

Speed Reading: Without the Chase, there would be no drama

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
OK, show of hands.

When NASCAR head honcho Brian France announced his plan for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, who among you immediately threw his hands up and said, "What a bunch of crap; this will never work!"

I have my hand up. And if you're being honest, so do you. And so does Ryan Newman, Richard Petty, Dale Jarrett and every motorsports writer in the country.

Man, were we wrong.

For those of you that still aren't buying into the excitement and the genius of The Chase, you are probably the same people who always think the beach is too hot and snow skiing is too cold. In other words, you won't be happy no matter what point system we have in place.

To further prove how great we have it, let's take a look at the headlines we could be looking at... and trust me, it's not very impressive.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. quits driving and goes fishing!

Without The Chase: The gaggle of guys bunched around the 10th position in the point standings would be getting the same amount of media attention as the recently finished World Canoe Polo Championships. With a dozen races left, any driver outside of the top 10 in points was already racing for little more than pride.

With The Chase: With two races remaining, no less than 12 drivers are within 184 points of that highly-coveted 10th position, five above the line and six below. Six of those guys are within 50 points or less and four are within 20 points. 20 points? That's the difference between finishing 1st and 4th on Sunday night. That's it. Which means that anything and everything can happen when the green flag drops at California Speedway and again six days later at Richmond. Just as the wild card has done it for Major League Baseball, The Chase has opened the door to a world of postseason possibilities.

Jeff Gordon wins a seat in the kitchen of the Waldorf-Astoria Grand Ballroom!

Without The Chase: Drivers battled for the 10th position simply to save their ego embarrassment of not getting an invitation to the season-ending Awards Banquet in New York. Only the top 10 and the Rookie of the Year have a reserved table at the Waldorf, the champ sitting on the stage and the 10th-place guy sits at a table so far away from the head table that it's almost on the Park Avenue sidewalk.

With The Chase: The guy who manages to finish the Richmond race in the 10-spot suddenly finds himself in contention for the whole enchilada. Last season, Mark Martin came into the cut-off event 424 points out of first. Four hundred laps later, he was only 35 markers back and ended up climbing his way to 4th and nearly winning the title.


Tony Stewart's name already engraved on Nextel Cup trophy!

Without The Chase: Tony Stewart's 213-point lead over Jimmie Johnson would carry over into the fall. Meaning that with a dozen races remaining in the season, we would already be talking about Stewart winning his second Cup title. Prior to The Chase, the series points leader heading into Labor Day weekend had gone on to win the title 10 times in 11 years. Can you say "boring"?

With The Chase: After the checkered flag falls at Richmond, Stewart's lead over the 2nd-place driver will be reset at five points. He has 10 races to defend that very small hill against an onslaught of nine drivers. That's certainly anything but boring.

  • TonyStewart.com

  • American TV's unable to make contact with NASCAR satellite feed!

    Without The Chase: As soon as the first football is kicked during Labor Day weekend, American sports fans start ignoring NASCAR like pretty girls ignored me at a high school dance. History says that unless there is a super-tight points battle (see 1992 and 1996), even the biggest race fans chose only to flip over during NFL timeouts or World Series pitching changes to see who was winning... then turn back to the gridiron or ballpark just as quickly.

    With The Chase: NBC/TNT posted record ratings for each of the final 11 events of 2004, the first run under The Chase format. And last year's Richmond battle wasn't nearly as tight as this one looks to be. And headed into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR won't just share the front page of sports sections across the U.S.; it will actually steal the headlines from Spurrier and T.O.


    Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.
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    Katrina Fallout
    The entire NASCAR Nextel Cup community can sympathize with the people of the Gulf Coast, with the devastation of last year's brutal hurricane season still visible in Daytona Beach and Homestead, Fla. There are 22 local tracks in the state of Louisiana and another 37 in Mississippi. Most of those tracks cancelled races last weekend as they prepared for Katrina and all are assumed to be canceling their traditional summer-ending Labor Day races as well. To help the people of the Gulf Coast, call 1-800-HELP-NOW or visit redcross.org.

    Busch Beat

    On Tuesday's NASCAR Nation, car owner Ray Evernham admitted that he is planning on fielding much-anticipated female driver Erin Crocker in the Busch Series full-time in 2006. Crocker will make her NBS debut at Richmond next weekend. In five ARCA Re/Max Series races this season, the 24-year old Massachusetts native has racked up four top-10 finishes.

    Truck Stop
    When Burney Lamar signed to drive for Kevin Harvick earlier this year, the 25-year old and his new boss mapped out a methodical two-year plan that would eventually put him in a Harvick-owned Chevy Silverado. But when Lamar started blistering the NASCAR West Series quicker than expected, Harvick decided to accelerate the plan. Lamar will make his NCTS debut at Las Vegas on September 24 and possibly the Busch Series event at Kansas City two weeks later.

    Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
    The King retired from driving five years before the California Speedway was opened for business in 1997. But just a few miles west on I-10 sits the massive Ontario Mills Mall — the largest one-story mall west of the Mississippi River — where Petty won two poles and scored four top-five finishes. No, he didn't do it racing through the food court, but on the 2 1/2-mile Ontario Speedway that used to occupy the real estate where the mall now sits. He clinched his 7th and final Winston Cup title there in 1979 by outdueling a mouthy youngster named Darrell Waltrip.

    Speed Mail of the Week
    Brett in Overland Park Kan.: "I was appalled to see that you did not include the Kansas Speedway on your list of the top five races that all NASCAR fans must attend. Not only are the sightlines the best in the sport, the infield Fan Walk is the coolest amenity on the circuit. When we get the Hall of Fame, maybe you will see fit to include Kansas on your must-see list!"

    Who's Hot & Who's Not

  • HOT/Tony Stewart: Unless a meteor hits the Joe Gibbs Racing shop between now and the start of The Chase, don't expect Stewart to budge from the top of our rankings or the Cup point standings. Expect a bit of a struggle at Fontana followed by a return to Victory Lane at Richmond

  • NOT HOT/Richard Childress Racing: Despite Jeff Burton's near-win, RCR left Bristol feeling like they had been kicked in the lugnuts. Dave Blaney struggled to a 23rd-place finish, and Kevin Harvick saw his slim Chase hopes disappear when he was caught up in Dale Jarrett and Ryan Newman's mess.
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