Hot 20 – Mr. Hamlin, what races do you suggest we remove, reduce, or reschedule?

As NASCAR swings into Chicago and begins the Chase, I can not help but notice that Denny Hamlin, and now Danica Patrick, have made mention that the season is too long. Reduce some races in length, reduce some altogether, run some mid-week are among their suggestions. I am cool with that, but in my mind there are a dozen races on eight tracks that cannot be touched. Ever.

Daytona, Talladega, Bristol, and Charlotte continue with their two each with no changes to race length. If 600 miles to too long at Charlotte, stay home. You can not tinker with the two road courses at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. The Southern 500 should never again be violated at Darlington. Same goes for the Brickyard at Indianapolis. The racing there might be questionable at Indy, but it has become a crown jewel event. Touch any of them, and more than a few of us fans will be gone. NASCAR simply can not afford to see too many more of us on our way out.

As for the other 24 contests on the other 15 tracks, go for it. However, you risk some upset folks at Martinsville, Richmond, and Atlanta where tradition means something to some people. Remove those tracks, and you remove fans. Texas, Michigan, Las Vegas, Fontana, and Chicago are not going anywhere. The trio of northeast venues, Pocono, Dover, and Loudon, would be tough for NASCAR to abandon. I could not care any less for Kansas or Kentucky, but I am sure there are others who do not share my sentiment.

As long as NASCAR refuses to brand each of its events so they might each become something special, traditional, and untouchable instead of nothing more than a spot to park a sponsor’s name for yet another generic race, a lot of them can disappear, be moved, or reduced in length without much fanfare. I mean, this weekend in Chicago we have the legendary and prestigious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400. Good bloody grief! What these two drivers are proposing works in theory. However, the devil is in the details, and we should leave it to Mr. Hamlin and Ms. Patrick to toss out a few specifics until we go ballistic. You know we would, no matter what they come up with.

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As for the Chase, eight organizations are represented by the 16. Joe Gibbs has all four of his outfits in the running. Stewart-Haas goes with three, missing only Patrick. Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi both came through fully loaded with their two car teams. Barney Visser was also perfect, going one for one with Martin Truex, Jr. We have a pair from Rick Hendrick’s stable, Richard Childress has his grandson, and Bob Jenkins has his surprise entry. Some did not make it, even those with past success. Jack Roush came up empty, despite three entries. Neither of Richard Petty’s cars made the grade.

A dozen veteran Chasers joined by a quartet of first-timers. Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are joined by rookies Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher. How might they do? As 2014 champion Kevin Harvick lays it down, “Are you happy to be there or do you want to win?” If they want to win, they could do fine. Like the seven former champions back for another drink from the well.

Heading into the Chase, NASCAR has decided to be kinder, gentler to those crew chiefs who break the rules. One loose lug nut does not a suspension make. Now it will take three, and then he is gone along with 35 points. So much for kinder and gentler, and this is a new rule change that goes beyond the Chase and into next season.

Failure to get the winning car successfully through the Laser Inspection Station by a significant amount, and you keep the win, but it won’t mean much. Up to 35 points gone and during the Chase that win might not count toward a free pass into the next round. With the points penalty, that just could kill the season. It is the kind of penalty that cost Ryan Newman 15 markers heading into Richmond.

Newman might not be in the Chase, but after what happened last week, he could wind up being a factor. We will have to wait to see how hot he might be at one member of our Hot 20 heading to Chicago.

1. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 2012 PTS
Tied for wins with Kyle, second only to Harvick in points. Brad might be thirsty again.

1. KYLE BUSCH – 2012 PTS
Imagine having to race all 36 races to win the title. Last season seemed so much shorter.

3. DENNY HAMLIN – 2009 PTS
You can shorten the World 600 in Charlotte…or you could to go-cart racing as an alternative.

4. KEVIN HARVICK – 2006 PTS
His Chase attitude is to “worry about the consequences when all the dust settles.” Game on.

4. CARL EDWARDS – 2006 PTS
Is this the year he can finally put that brides-maid dress away?

4. MARTIN TRUEX, JR. – 2006 PTS
Has led the pack this season for 1,664 miles. If you are going on a trip, here is your driver.

4. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2006 PTS
Seeking a new nickname. Maybe something that rhymes with “Seven Time.”

4. MATT KENSETH – 2006 PTS
There is nice Matt and there is Chase Matt. You don’t want to make Chase Matt angry.

9. JOEY LOGANO – 2003 PTS
Last year, guess who upset Chase Matt.

9. KURT BUSCH – 2003 PTS
He has a title. Younger brother has a title. All older siblings know that just does not cut it.

9. KYLE LARSON – 2003 PTS
Over his last three races, has finished first, third, and second. That is called momentum.

9. CHRIS BUESCHER – 2003 PTS
Not everyone gets to live in the penthouse. even for what most predict will be a short stay.

9. TONY STEWART – 2003 PTS
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Newman knows!

14. AUSTIN DILLON – 2000 PTS
A truck title. A XFINITY crown. There is room on the shelf for one more.

14. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 2000 PTS
Could former winner of Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 win the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400?

14. CHASE ELLIOTT – 2000 PTS
Again, the nickname says it all. Would like to change that to “Champ” if he can.

17. RYAN NEWMAN – 633 PTS
Who is considered Public Enemy No. 1 in Chicago? Ask Newman; he might have an answer.

18. KASEY KAHNE – 633 PTS
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again next season.

19. TREVOR BAYNE – 586 PTS
Unlike some, Bayne is determined to leave any at-track tantrums to his toddler.

20. A.J. ALLMENDINGER – 583 PTS
Racing in Chicago, but might have more interest in how the Bears do Monday against the Eagles.

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