There’s something wrong with a playoff picture when the guy in first place – Mark Martin – has four victories and a guy who’s on the outside looking in – Kyle Busch – has four too.
In a sport where winning should be the only thing, it’s a travesty that Busch – who delivers checkered flags with some regularity – can’t now compete for the Sprint Cup.
(I know, I know: NASCAR rewards consistency. How about rewarding what the fans go to see – winning.)
Anyway, NASCAR’s "regular season" ended on Saturday night with the running of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 and the top 12 drivers in points at the end of that race now move on to the Chase for the Championship.
All the other drivers can still compete in the remaining 10 races but only those 12 are eligible to win the title. It seems foolproof, but . . .
One of these years – and maybe it’ll be this one – somebody not in the Chase is going to go out and so completely dominate those last 10 events that it will make the format look silly.
For instance, Kyle Busch could very easily win any number of the remaining races. If he does, and scores more points than any of the qualified drivers in the process, NASCAR could wind up with egg on its face.
Which means that the Chase needs some fine-tuning.
How about this? From 2010 on, the driver with the most wins of two or more, who does not qualify for the Chase on points, will be added to the field.
If NASCAR doesn’t want more than a dozen drivers in the playoffs, then the "winning driver" would bump the 12th-place "consistent driver."
If that was the case this year, Kyle Bush would bump Greg Biffle – which I don’t think would be a bad thing: Busch had four race wins and one pole this season; Biffle had zero and zero.
Biffle might be consistent, but he’s sure not settin’ off any fireworks, is he?
In any event, the race on Saturday night to decide the 12 playoff spots was a dilly. There was lots of action from start to finish.
As I predicted (I don’t get these things right very often, so let me enjoy this) Brian Vickers squeezed into the Chase and Matt Kenseth was squeezed out. In fact, Vickers went from 13th in the standings at the green flag to eighth at the checkers – an improvement of five places.
Kenseth was in the Chase at the start but ended the race in 25th place. That dropped him two positions and he finished the regular season in 14th place.
This is the first time since the Chase format was introduced that Kenseth won’t be a part of it. When his long-time sponsor, DeWalt Tools, announced near the end of July that it was withdrawing its support at the end of the season, the wind seemed to go out of his team’s sails and they’ve been sliding backwards ever since.
Although Denny Hamlin won the Rock & Roll 400 (and he’s probably still celebrating) with Kurt Busch second and Jeff Gordon third, the guy who made the biggest move in the standings was Mark Martin, who finished fourth in the race but jumped all the way up to first place – an improvement of nine positions.
(By the way, Martin is exactly where he should be when winning and aggression are rewarded: he won four races, more than any other driver except Kyle B., and he won six poles. Vickers was the only other driver to do that.)
Several guys danced a little too close to the edge of the cliff for my liking, notably Juan Pablo Montoya. He had it on cruise control Saturday night and kept his nose clean but his 19th-place finish dropped him three places in the standings and he finished 11th – a little too close for comfort.
But it’s over, and here’s where we stand:
Martin is in first place, with four wins and six poles; Tony Stewart is second (3 wins, 0 poles); Jimmie Johnson is third (3, 1); Denny Hamlin is fourth (2, 0); Kasey Kahne is fifth (2, 0); Jeff Gordon is sixth (1, 0); Kurt Busch is seventh (1, 0); Vickers is eighth (0 wins, 6 poles); and Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Montoya and Biffle are ninth through 12th respectively with 0 wins and 0 poles each.
The first race in the Chase takes place next Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire International Raceway. They will then race every weekend through to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22
Every race except one – Charlotte on Oct. 17 – will be on a Sunday afternoon. The Charlotte event will be a Saturday night contest, with the green flag scheduled for 7 p.m.
– Tony Stewart and Gene Haas formed Stewart-Haas Racing over the winter of 2008-09. The infrastructure was in place – Haas CNC Racing had been operational since 2002. The new team is frequently called the "Hendrick B-Team" as it gets it engines from Hendrick Motorsports and also receives technical support.
Be that as it may, the fact that Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing’s other driver, Ryan Newman, are both in the Chase is astounding and good for them.
– Kyle Busch must have finally listened and sought out some media training because he was a changed man in defeat on Saturday night.
He missed the Chase by eight points. Ordinarily – at least, this has been the pattern for much of 2009 – he would ignore the reporters and stomp off and not talk to anybody. On Saturday night, he was eloquent and gracious – the complete opposite of what we’ve come to expect.
He even indicated that perhaps "the good Lord" had put him in that position to see how he’d react.
And he did very nicely, thank you.