[media-credit name=”Noel Lanier” align=”alignright” width=”231″][/media-credit]The excitement. The drama. The dreams we have, only to be dashed by the reality. In more ways than one, this was Chicago. Thankfully, there is the personal video recorder.
Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski led the race last Sunday afternoon. Unlike Daytona, for example, where the guy leading might switch places with the guy in 20th place on any given lap, what you saw in Chicago you saw for lap upon lap. When you got enough of that, and especially when you catch up to the live fed, you let the program record as you leave for awhile. There is something to be said about that, as you catch up with the latest happenings on the diamond or the gridiron. You get to see stuff live, such as a last second botched field goal attempt that left the New England Patriots sitting second best on the day. You discovered there was not much hope on the weekend for those self-destructing zany Saskatchewan Roughriders. Then you come back to the race.
When I came back, there was either Jimmie or Brad still leading the race. However, after the final pit stops, Keselowski was better and ran off to win his eighth career event and fourth of the season to take the lead in the Chase. With nine to go, he leads the runner-up Johnson by three points and defending champion Tony Stewart by eight.
Yes, there was more news to be had other than who ran first or what ran second. Jeff Gordon, he of the big Richmond comeback, got bit by a hung throttle that caused him to bite the outside wall which resulted in a 35th place, which really bites. Now 47 points out of the hunt, he will need to discover another comeback or his championship hopes will be about on par with those of Kyle Busch.
Matt Kenseth lost a shock, and wound up 18th. Denny Hamlin ran out of fuel on the last lap, and his fate was 16th. Still, only Gordon, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr are more than 20 points out at the moment. In the novelty section, Danica Patrick ran 25th.
25th is probably the maximum number of actual contenders we have in Sprint Cup. If changes are to be made in who gets a free pass each week, I would lower it from 35 to 25. Bobby Labonte currently is in 24th place, fifty some points ahead of Mark Martin, who has missed nine races this year and is still eleven points better than Kurt Busch. The Top 25 should keep the marquee drivers in, while leaving the rest with a shot at competing for a place. Now, if your race week might be ruined by not seeing Casey Mears, David Gililand, David Ragan, Travis Kvapil or Landon Cassill out there, well, too bad. Let those boys race in if they can. If they can’t beat out Joe Nemechek, they should not be there.
Joe was not last on Sunday. Nemechek ran 52 laps to finish 40th, while Michael McDowell went all of 38 of 267, less than 15% of the contest. My solution? Give the boys a base amount for making the race, say $20,000, then give them 100% of the remainder owed for whatever position they finish in if they run 100% of the laps. Run only 15%, you get just 15% of the remainder owed. If you get crashed out or caught in someone else’s mess, tough luck. If you want to play with the big boys, be sure you can at least run with the big dogs. I wouldn’t mind 25 contenders and 18 pretenders running out there, as long as they at least try to be the best in class.
Now that I’ve solved all of NASCAR’s problems, next week I’ll either tackle the NHL lockout, the Chicago teacher’s strike, or world peace. In the meantime, we have a race coming up in New Hampshire. Eight of the Chasers have won there, while Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Keselowski have not. Mind you, Keselowski had not won at Chicago before last weekend, and neither had Johnson. So much for that statistic. Jeff Gordon has three wins at Loudon, but none since 1998. If nothing else, Gordon has to be not just good, but great this Sunday, or the excitement, the drama, the dream for him will truly come crashing to an end. Enjoy the week.