It’s time for the Chase! Aren’t you thrilled? Oh. Well, actually neither am I. The fact is the haze of summer has given way to September blue skies and the children have returned to class. Life takes on a calmer pace and I look forward to quiet afternoons devoid of screaming children and angry parents.
But then arrives the Chase, NASCAR’s version of the playoff’s and the ensuing 10-week marathon driving toward the awards ceremonies in Las Vegas. We get hype, new commercials, excessive extra TV content, special Chase issues from your favorite racing sites; it’s sort of like Christmas without trees and lights. All the excitement makes you wonder if there was something you missed during the regular season that necessitates this avalanche of a media blitz. Was there?
Actually, no. It’s not so much that we missed the big stories as much as they’ve sort of settled into distant memory. So, here’s a refresher of the big storylines for each race, and some little ones.
Daytona 500: NASCAR discovers Twitter and Tide gets free adspace. It all came about from Juan Pablo Montoya‘s random right turn into the jet dryer, resulting in the infamous explosion. Matt Kenseth wins during primetime on a Monday night.
Phoenix: The No. 11 team verifies the genius in snapping up the Sprint Cup champion crew chief from 2011 with a win, and we all got a gander at the new racing surface.
Las Vegas: Tony Stewart‘s No. 14 takes an eon to refire, leading to a chorus of “I told you the EFI was a problem!” from the Media Center, and proceeded to take his new crew chief Steve Addington to victory lane. Take that, Darian Grubb!
Bristol: Kenseth appeared at the front of the radar for the fourth race in a row without making much noise. But it was Brad Keselowski who stole the trophy.
Fontana: Uh… well, the final appeal for those funky C-pillars on the No. 48 was heard and penalties reduced to the laughable limit. Other than that, Stewart notched another one for his victory belt.
Martinsville: Short-track racing at its best. Ryan Newman and the ‘Dinger took this one down to the last foot before the trophy was handed to the No. 39 team. And right about now we began to wonder who upstairs Jeff Gordon ticked off this season.
Texas: Those cookie-cutter tracks are really awesome! At least Greg Biffle thought so since he got a pair of new six-shooters. Otherwise, the now infamous No. 48 C-pillar car was sent to the show car circuit, never to be seen again on a plate track.
Kansas: Somebody named Denny Hamlin won for the second time this season, setting up what the season would look like well into the summer. Otherwise, this is Kansas. What did you expect?
Richmond: While Kyle Busch took his bow, Carl Edwards and Stewart still couldn’t figure out where they were supposed to have lined up for the fourth restart. Between that and some random water bottles creating driving hazards, it was a rather mild evening. In fact, nine races into the season fans were wondering whether NASCAR excitement would ever return.
Talladega: All year FOX had been trotting out a lovely Hendrick Motorsports 100th Win Any Minute Now piece… and were once again disappointed when Keselowski grabbed his second victory of the season. Otherwise, the much-touted pack racing really devolved into more tandem racing. Seems like no matter how hard you try, there ain’t no fixing plate racing.
Darlington: Oh wait! It happened! 100 Cup wins for HMS. Mr. Five-time did the job himself. And just because we really thought Kurt Busch was “just having fun” in his No. 51 ride this year, it stunned the stands when he played bumper cars in the pits with Newman post-race.
Coke 600: Kasey Kahne added to the Hendrick trophy case in a rather sedate version of this race.
Dover: Jimmie Johnson sported a circus afro in victory lane and Kurt Busch added another chapter to his embarrassingly long list of “I’m an idiot days” when he threatened a member of the media – resulting in a one-race suspension.
Pocono: Something bizarre happened, the season perked up. In a classic confrontation, young gun Joey Logano moved veteran Mark Martin out of the way to snare the win at a competitive and exciting 400-mile Pocono event. Most everybody agreed, this was a fun race to watch. And yes, Jeff Gordon’s year was officially sucking.
Michigan: Didn’t you hear the angels singing? Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. In the Dark Knight car. Never mind the new track surface that resulted in scary fast speeds, a tire change and a deluge right before the green flag, NASCAR Nation celebrated their chosen son’s win.
Sonoma: It was rather quiet and little unexciting, but somehow in the end Clint Bowyer won fair and square. Also, TV viewers were wondering whatever happened to the sterling Summer Six Pack broadcasts TNT used to put on.
Kentucky: There wasn’t any major traffic snafu. BK benefited from pit strategy to win race No. 3 and the usual pack of suspects tried to make an otherwise snoozefest something to watch. And rumors started to circulate about Kenseth heading to the No. 20 for 2013 despite lots of denials on all parts.
Daytona: The ‘Dinger was suspended for failing a drug test and a bizarre sequence of events eventually had him losing the No. 22 ride and entering into the Road to Recovery program. NASCAR Nation still awaits the next installment in this sad saga. Meanwhile, Stewart beat out Kahne, Kenseth and Biffle at the latest dance.
New Hampshire: Kahne won. Hamlin suffered a miscommunication in the pits. That was about it.
Indy: In which many things happened in other series for the first time at the storied track, but really not much at all when we were watching the Cup race. Johnson won again in his typical manner – the one where it’s just his race. All his. All the time.
Pocono: Jeff Gordon finally brought his winless streak to an end, thanks to rain. At the same time, several fans were struck by lightning and Brian Zimmerman died during the severe thunderstorm that ended the race. So now all the tracks reviewed their severe weather procedures. Never take Mother Nature for granted.
Watkins Glen: It’s a road course! We never have great races at road courses. Wrong! Keselowski was a grinning fool during his second-place media appearance, because the beatin’ and bangin’ between him and Marcos Ambrose on the final lap was epic. I believe I was jumping up and down, maybe yelling at that time. Epic, I say.
Michigan: Johnson ruled the day, but Biffle won. Martin’s meeting with pit wall, and the splicing of his car in two, resulted in further safety revisions for those on pit road during races and revisiting the design of openings in the wall.
Bristol: It was Bristol baby! Not the Old Bristol, but more like a smaller Darlington. Drivers rode the rim, beat on their neighbors, threw a helmet and generally a great time was had by all. Oh, and don’t forget Hamlin’s Wobble during intros. He may have danced a bit more in victory lane.
Atlanta: Hamlin won. And yes, it seems like the names of Kenseth, Stewart, Hamlin and Johnson are the ones we can’t stop talking about, as they have remained at the front of the field all year long. But don’t forget Biffle and Keselowski. Its getting interesting folks.
Richmond: Yes, Bowyer finished off the regular season with a statement issued while hoisting the trophy. But from the rear of the field a certain Jeff Gordon drove like a madman to edge out Kyle Busch for the last coveted wildcard spot into the Chase.
And here we are, heading off to Chicago where the 12 Chasers will have at it. Who will be the big winner? Well, nothing’s ever certain but it’s a good shot that those names who appeared in Victory Lane more than twice over the season will be on the short list when we’re pulling into Homestead.
My personal pick? My head says Mr. Johnson is gonna do it again – Chad’s been up to some pretty sneaky stuff of late. But my heart is cheering for Keselowski, that Tweeting fiend and all his polarizing opinions.
What’s your pick to win the Chase of 2012? I’m looking forward to hearing from you and watching every last race to find out.
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.