Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Who’s This Year’s Chase Cinderella? The Numbers Line up for Ryan Newman… To Finish 3rd

It’s all in the numbers, see? And the momentum, of course. Every year, some guy from the back half of the Chase field makes a dent at Loudon that throws that momentum their way. Except for 2004, when Big Mo hung with a seventh-seeded Kurt Busch and they won a title together, it’s been a Schoolhouse Rock routine.

‘3,’ it’s the magic number!

In 2005, it was Carl Edwards. Yeah, he’d won four races that season, but he was a rookie and not expected to amount for much when the chips were down. What’d he do? Rode the Mo to a third-place points finish. Another rookie, Denny Hamlin, swept the Pocono races in 2006. Again, not the sexy pick for a title run, but Hamlin coolly finished fourth in Loudon and parlayed Mo into a third-place points finish.

Clint Bowyer had not won a single race in his nearly two-year career when the ’07 Chase started. Well, he promptly went out and won Loudon, slugging it out with a couple Hendrick boys until Big Mo left him for Hank Jr.’s Texas Women in Fort Worth. Guess where he finished in the standings? Yep. Third.

And of course, last season Greg Biffle played the role of Ferris Bueller by underachieving throughout the regular season, but somehow squeaked in the playoffs anyway. You remember, right? Runs of first, first and third to start the Chase and suddenly he and Mo were tag-teaming Jimmie Johnson and Edwards. Unfortunately, Edwards took exception and tagged the Mo out of Biffle at Talladega. He never recovered from that bump-draft gone awry to mount a serious points charge… but he did finish third.

Who will it be this year? Well, Big Mo likes rookies or guys that are winless on the season. No rookies here: so Edwards, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Biffle are the choices. Of those, the two Roushians know Mo is Fool’s Gold; he only gets you so far and typically dumps you just when you think he’s committed. They won’t bite.

See also
Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: All Around NASCAR's Chosen Ones

So I guess it’s down to Newman and JPM. Of the two, I’ll take Newman. He’s already been talking to Mo – with three consecutive top 10s – while Montoya, I think, has already ended his association, what with a run of nine straight top-12 finishes he had coming to a screeching halt this August.

And there you have it. Congrats, Newman; you may not win it all this year, but third’s not so bad. You may even get a second primary sponsor out of it.

Now that I’ve drug you through that exercise, let’s roll out the questions. And by the way, while I’ve got the third-place equation all figured out, I haven’t a clue how to determine a champion… besides to just pick Johnson.

Q: Hey Matt. Love your column where you answer questions. I have two: 1. What is with NASCAR and all the unneeded caution flags? Atlanta had at least two and probably more, where a car spun – didn’t hit anything or anybody and kept going – and NASCAR throws a caution flag!! Johnson wasn’t even done spinning before they threw one for him!

2. Is it in the pit reporters’ contracts that they have to say that the cars are being filled up with Sunoco fuel a minimum number of times during each broadcast? Don’t remember this when Pureoil was the fuel sponsor! – Ken Smith, Fremont, Ohio

A: Thanks for the kind words, man. The free flow of caution flags typically rears its ugly yellow self when the field is strung out at an intermediate track and the control tower thinks things might be getting a bit dull for the folks at home. Also, getting one late in a race – any race, any track – bunches the field up, making for a more exciting (if not contrived) dash to the checkers.

The conspiracy theorists will tell you the mystery debris and just-a-quick-loop, single-car cautions are for the benefit of certain drivers. I’ve never bought into that theory. In fact, I’ve never been on board with NASCAR rigging a race in general – just engineering a more exciting finish.

As for the pit reporters, no, their contracts do not stipulate they use the name of NASCAR’s official sponsors… but I’m sure they’re encouraged to slip ‘em in any time they can. It’s a company line thing. Remember a few weeks back when I told you that NASCAR had sent a memo to its media folks encouraging them to use the term “Free Pass” as opposed to “Lucky Dog” and “Double-File Restarts, Shootout Style” instead of just “Double-File Restarts?” Same principle, slightly different circumstances.

Yes, it’s stupid. Mute the TV and listen to Barney Hall on MRN.

Q: Kelly Bires, huh? What can you tell me about this kid? Must have some kind of potential if Jr. wants him. – Dan Toretta

A: Bires is 25 years old and hails from the great racing state of Wisconsin. Like most these days, he started karting as a child and worked his way up through late models on the local bullrings. When he won seven races in 17 starts in ASA in 2006 (en route to Rookie of the Year honors) he caught the eye of Tad and Jody Geschickter – that’d be the Tad of Jody of JTG Racing fame.

Bires ran for JTG when it was associated with the Wood Brothers from 2006-08 in the Truck and Nationwide series. After running a full Nationwide slate in ’08, he lost his ride due to the economy being what it is and the Geschickter’s choice to go Cup racing. When not starting and parking for Braun Racing and MSRP Motorsports in the Nationwide Series this season, he pieced together three top 10s in very light duty.

But those good runs in competitive equipment proved enough for Junior to come calling. And driving for JR Motorsports is like being a left-handed pitcher: It’s the quickest way to the majors (particularly when Kelley Earnhardt Elledge is talking about a JRM jump to Cup in 3-5 years).

Q: Matt, I’m in a fantasy league that me and my friends put together for the Chase. We each get three Chase drivers we keep throughout. We also pick two outside of the Chase that rotate weekly. I’m looking for a Chase driver that might surprise with a strong run my buds might not pick up on. I need to capitalize. I need a sleeper! Thanks. – Jon Doe, Anywhere, USA

A: Well, if you’ve made it this far in the column, maybe I’ve turned you on to Newman. If that doesn’t stir your drink, come back on Saturday when the Frontstretch staff will give its complete Chase picks – along with some sleeper info that may come in handy.

By the way, you know this cat is playing all the angles when he uses the cloaked-in-anonymity-Jon Doe tag. Nice play.

Before I’m gone for the week, I thought I’d share this quote from Matt Kenseth I found stored away on my hard drive from way back in 2003, just after the initial Chase parameters had been announced by NASCAR:

“It’s even worse than I thought it would be.”

Oh, the irony.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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