Stats don't mean a thing in this Chase

BY Jeff Hammond • September 28, 2011

OK, I have said this before, I will say it again now, but this time in big bold letters. Take your damn NASCAR Sprint Cup statistics and throw them in the damn garbage can. To go along with the new schedule of tracks in the Chase, NASCAR has changed the points system.

This Chase now has a completely different feel to it. You cannot predict how this is going to play out with any amount of certainty. Tony Stewart has done a couple things he hasn’t been able do all season long. He found his way to Victory Lane not once, but twice. Those back-to-back wins also mark the first time all season that I believe he’s put two great runs together.

So as quick as you can get hot, you can get cold. We’ve seen it with Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and others. My point is don’t everyone rush to crown Tony the champion yet. After what he would classify as a mediocre or lousy regular season, Tony comes out of the Chase box and sets the NASCAR world on its ear.

Tony also will be the first one to tell you that he clearly understands all the success over these past two weeks can come to an abrupt halt. There is a reason Dover International Speedway is called the Monster Mile. Simply put, that’s one really difficult track that can gobble you up.

Things happen quickly at Dover. In the time it takes you to snap your fingers, the guy in front or back of you could take you out. Imagine what would happen to the points picture if our top four or five guys were taken out early in the race Sunday? That’s what has been fun about our 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. It’s been consistently inconsistent. You just never know where the next surprise is going to come from.

I hate to say it but I think you can definitely take the No. 11 team off the board as a Chase player. They have not been able to put it together all season. They ran just good enough to make the Chase. Now here they are so far behind. Denny and that entire team are so beat down and questioning themselves that they don’t have it in them to rally back. He’s the only one of the 12 that I believe is done.

We saw Stewart start running better the last couple races of the regular season. He’s now stunned everyone and won the first two races of the Chase. No one saw that coming. This from a guy who three weeks ago was saying he and his team didn’t deserve to even be in the Chase.

You’ve got Brad Keselowski still hot as ever. That young man continues to race with the mentality that he has everything to win and nothing to lose. He wasn’t supposed to be in the Chase. He got red hot and raced his way there. His summer-months story is absolutely incredible. A lot of people are not giving Brad enough credit for how savvy he is. Don’t forget that this same young man won last year’s Nationwide Series championship. So even though this is his first-ever Chase, he was just in a title fight last year.

Kevin Harvick is one of the most tenacious drivers you will ever race against. He and his Richard Childress Racing team fought and clawed all the way to the last race of the year at Homestead in 2010 before having to settle for third place in the final standings. He and his team are excellent at taking a bad car or bad weekend and yet pulling off a great finish.

The reality is there is simply too much racing to be done yet to say Tony, Kevin or Brad are the three main players. Dover is race three of 10 in the Chase. When the checkered flag waves Sunday at Dover, the picture will be a little clearer. We will have to get through the first five races before we will know who all the players really are.

That’s one of the reasons I say throw the statistics away. I mean the season has already been as unpredictable as any I can remember in a long time. Statistics also won’t tell you about the intangibles on a team. For instance, they can’t measure how much heart and composure a team has. Those can’t measure how deep they dig because they want to be the one that unseats the No. 48 team. That can’t be measured or calculated via statistics.

I love Jimmie Johnson. I consider him a friend. He will be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day for everything he has accomplished behind the wheel of a stock car. For all that, he is even better as a person. However, if I was still in that garage running one of the other 11 teams in the Chase, I would be spitting nails because I would be so sick of hearing how great he and his team are.

Five consecutive years as champion is still unfathomable to me. I can only imagine what Tony or Brad or Jeff Gordon or the others think. They probably hear it in their sleep about the No. 48 and they are tired of it. They want to be the one that knocks Jimmie off the top of the mountain. Again, those are things you can’t predict or extrapolate from statistics.

So like I said earlier, the numbers simply don’t add up for Denny Hamlin, especially the way they are running right now. The other 11, however, are still in the thick of it. That’s what this new points system has given us. There is ebb and a flow in this thing we really haven’t seen in years past. That’s exactly why you have to be very careful in trying to use the past to predict the future.

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