When Sprint released their Summer Showdown bonus program, they probably wopuld not, in their wildest dreams, have predicted that when it came down to Atlanta, the four finalists would be Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch would be the drivers in the running for the $3 million bonus.
Well, they probably dreamed of Busch grabbing a win over the last four weeks. Maybe even Keselowski if someone ate a whole pizza before bed or something. But Menard and Ambrose?
And now one of them will have to beat the odds again to win.
None of the four drivers has consistently run at the top of the leaderboard at Atlanta and it’s been a full year since they’ve raced here. Busch, the best of the four in terms of average finish at 17.3, holds the group’s only win. Both Menard and Ambrose have mid-pack averages of 22.0 and 22.2 respectively, and Keselowski’s average of 30.5 is something you would expect of a backmarker, not the series’ hottest driver for the last month.
Should one of the four win, the driver, the charity of his choice, and a fan who selected each driver to win the qualifying races will receive $1 million each (two fans will split the money of Keselowski wins. It’s slightly reminiscent of the old No Bull 5 bonus, which pitted the top-five drivers from a previously selected race against one another for a bonus, with the top five in that race making up the field for the next race in the challenge.
It’s likely when Sprint created the program, that they expected the drivers involved to be a little more high profile, a little more likely to win. Carl Edwards was in attendance when the program was launched, but conspicuously absent from the press conference held on Saturday with the four participants. Also absent is five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has just one win all year.
While it’s likely that Sprint created the program with drivers like Edwards and Johnson in mind, perhaps the actual field is better. After all, everyone loves an underdog, and half of the four are definitely underdogs. Even Keselowski could be counted in that category based on his Atlanta record. And while Busch is probably the favorite to take home the cash, his past performance at the track is fairly mediocre.
Also, with Busch guaranteed a Chase berth and Kesleowski all but, and considering that both Menard and Ambrose have little hope of making the Chase unless they can pull off a win, you have four drivers in position to forget about points and go for the win. That’s something you wouldn’t have with Edwards or Johnson; while both are locked into the Chase, neither is running where they want to be as they start their championship bids, which likely means a more conservative approach from the two.
In other words, all four participants have something in common: they have absolutely nothing to lose but a million dollars.
That in itself makes this unexpected group the best possible mix for the bonus program, better than the bigger names and the former champions and the favorites to win on Sunday. They’re dangerous in that they can and will put it all on the line.
Busch and Keselowski, in particular, are already known for being aggressive on the track and that’s the kind of driver fans need to see in a program like this one, especially coupled with a pair of nice guys who finished first to get there. Keselowski has had an intense and long-standing rivalry with Busch as well.
So, while the field for the inaugural Summer Showdown might not be the lineup Sprint hoped for at first, it may just be that even if Sprint could have picked the drivers who will race for the extra prize, they wouldn’t have changed a thing.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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