ONE: THE BIG ONE
As you might have heard, there’s a rather significant race next up this Sunday afternoon at big bad Talladega Superspeedway.
Following the shenanigans at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday evening and the threat of the second phase of Chase elimination, I would expect this race to be even madder than the usual restrictor plate race craziness. Whether or not we see any retaliation remains to be seen but given the inherent dangers of this form of racing, I have to hope that any planned revenge is served cold at a later date.
In many ways, it’s a shame that this race is a Chase eliminator since much of your own fate rests in the hands of others. But on the other hand, given that anyone can win on the day, it gives the drivers on the outside looking in a wonderful opportunity to make it to the next round of the playoffs.
In previous iterations of the Chase, Talladega has always been the race drivers have feared and we’ve certainly seen championship contenders content to sit at the back of the field – in relative safety – for much of the afternoon. I’m not sure we’ll see that sort of approach this time around especially for the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, who absolutely need to win to make it. One way or another this should be riveting viewing.
TWO: CLINCH SCENARIOS
Just two drivers are sitting pretty headed into the race this weekend – Joey Logano, who won at Kansas, and Kevin Harvick, who picked up the victory this past weekend at Charlotte.
For the rest of the Chase field, the story is somewhat different. Five drivers can only control their destiny through a win: Kasey Kahne (one point up on ninth place), Matt Kenseth (one point behind eighth), Keselowski (19 points back), Johnson and Earnhardt (both 26 points in arrears). Of course there are circumstances whereby a great finish could be enough – especially for the first two – but essentially these drivers are reliant on either winning or misfortune for others.
For the remaining drivers, it’s a question of math which on a regular track would be much more manageable, but at Talladega it’s a very different story. For the record, for Kyle Busch a 24th place run is good enough; for Ryan Newman, 19th place; Carl Edwards, 18th; Jeff Gordon, 16th place; and Denny Hamlin, 15th. If any of these drivers lead a lap or lead most laps their necessary finish drops down by one or two points respectively.
THREE: IMAGINE IF KYLE LARSON HAD MADE THE CHASE
Take a look at Kyle Larson’s results so far in the Chase; they make extremely impressive reading. He opened up with a third-place run at Chicagoland and 20 laps led before a runner-up finish at Loudon. At Dover he finished in sixth place before another second place run at Kansas. Finally, at Charlotte last Saturday night it was another sixth-place run and five more laps pacing the field.
Simply put, those are championship-winning numbers for a rookie who seems to be unfazed by just about everything. All told this year, Larson has eight top-5 finishes and 16 top-10 runs and an average finish of 13.9. Just 21 years of age, Larson has run a total of 101 races across the three top tiers of NASCAR: 35 at the Cup level, 58 in the Nationwide Series and eight races in the Truck Series.
Given how he’s run this year in a car that was uncompetitive under the previous incumbent, Juan Pablo Montoya, even the most conservative of prognosticators would have to suggest he has a stellar future ahead of him. Just imagine if that first win had come in the regular season? He’d be sitting pretty for a spot in the third round of the Chase.
We’ll never know how the pressure of the playoffs would have affected him but my guess is he’d have driven just as successfully.
By the time some of you read this column, it’s likely that any penalties resulting from Saturday night’s post race fracas will have already been handed out. Perhaps NASCAR has decided to turn a blind eye but perhaps has decided to come down hard on the participants.
So here’s my two cents for what it’s worth. I would leave it under the “boys, have at it” theory and issue stern warnings and nothing else. Yes, Keselowski needs to be told to behave himself – especially on pit road – because if he’s that angry he should fight properly face to face and not use his car as a weapon. That’s not how men fight.
NASCAR is, and always will be, a sport of great emotion. And that for me was evidenced by the seven text messages on the incident I received from a great friend who loves NASCAR dearly, but hates the new format with an immense I-want-to-never-watch-again-type passion. It fired him up and that usually takes a lot, believe me. NASCAR needs that like nothing else. So let the boys off this time. That’s my opinion. Interested to hear yours.
FIVE: GET WELL SOON, STEVE
I wanted to make mention of Steve Byrnes, who will be stepping away from his NASCAR broadcasting duties for an indefinite medical leave of absence. The popular veteran Byrnes was successfully treated for head and neck cancer back in 2013. But it seems the terrible disease has recurred and Byrnes is headed back into to treatment.
Last week Byrnes tweeted, “On behalf of my family, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the kind expressions. Starting chemo next week and I’m ready to fight!” My thoughts and prayers are with Byrnes as he battles back again. May God bless you, Steve.
About the author
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.
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i was devastated to learn that Steve’s cancer had returned. he’s a fighter though. all us fans just need to keep him and his doctors and family in prayers.
Nothing NASCAR does surprises me anymore but some penalties need to be handed out. I could see fines and probation for everyone but Kesolowski. He needs at least a points penalty. If NASCAR does not act it sets a very dangerous precedent for the future, “chase guys are immune from penalties and can pretty much do what they want”.
Danny, if this had happened in April at the 8th race of the season would you have felt the same way? If not, then you are letting the fact that these guys are chase drivers blind you to both justice and fairness. I’m not a fan of Kesolowski but I kind of like the guy. Even so, he crossed several lines at the end of that race.
Bill B, I agree with you about the “chase blindness” aspect of this from some of the media.
I’m not so concerned with Kez’s actions on the track. Pit road was bad. Matt could’ve been badly injured since he got hit with his belts off and his HANS device removed. But, the worst was what Brad did in the garage. Some of the details are still sketchy but he did a burnout within the garage and also hit at least one transmission. When there are people walking around the cars you absolutely cannot tolerate that sort of behavior.
If I was NASCAR, I’d be sending an unmistakable message to Brad and any other driver about how you never act recklessly in and around the garage. Kez would be watching the rest of the 2014 season from outside the car.
Issue here is that the incident in the garage is a little blown out of proportion as based on the video I saw there were not many people around until after the cars got back outside by the haulers. It did not appear based on the video any pedestrian was in imminent danger in the garage and the 2 and 11 playing tag is the real issue. It would seem based on the video the 11 was chasing the 2 so who really is at most fault for the garage incident impartially it would appear to be Hamlin. Also, based on the telecast replay of the last few laps, Hamlin needs to grow a pair as what occurred on track was straight up plain old fashion racing. He did not get spun out, he did not hit the wall or really anything ooh I got bumped in the rear a couple of time racing at the end of the race. It’s called racing. Plus Hamlin should have ok with it since he did not lose much but the 2 car lost a bunch.
It would be nice to see video of the 20 car doing the wave around on that last caution to see what Keselowski is referring to.
Still think it was a mistake on Paul Wolfe’s part to not come in for tires. It likely would have avoided almost all of this drama, plus the tires on the 2 car were so much older than everyone else’s and he likely would have finished better than 16th.
Get better Mr. Brynes. Hope treatment goes well for you.
I really can’t say that the garage incident was a little blown out of proportion. It may appear that the reason that it may seem that it has been blown out of proportion is that there wasn’t that many people in the garage but think of it another way which is people in the garage area may not be expecting to see a couple of race cars taking short cuts through the garage. I call it dumb luck that someone wasn’t hurt. I’ve been in enough pit areas to know that most people are always cautious for race cars moving about but I think that Hamlin and Kes took it a bit too far. Personally I’d park them both for a few races. NASCAR can’t let this sort of thing slide.
My prayers are with you Steve, I pray for a speedy recovery.
I have to agree with Brian. Since the 11 car was chasing after the 2 thru the garage area, he is as much at fault as the 2. And I’ve seen pics of the 11 right behind the 2 in the garage.
I am so sorry to hear that Steve’s cancer has returned. I pray for him and for his family.
Count me in as one of those fans who hate this new chase format. And no, the idiocy on the track and in the garage after the race in Charlotte didn’t change my opinion of that. Has NASCAR really fallen so far that it needs chaos and people trying to run over one another with cars to get the fans interest? If that is the case, then my opinion that they have screwed the sport up beyond all recognition for the past 10 years is still valid.
I don’t plan to watch the race at Talledega. I hate plate racing, I hate the fact that NASCAR is using that race as an elimination race since it is too easy to get caught up in someone else’s issue – more than at other tracks. You call it riveting, I call it another word, but I won’t write that here.
With the exception of not watching the race (I wish I could not watch), I agree with everything you said. Especially that last paragraph.
NASCAR missed a huge opportunity to set a precedent and reign in the lunacy. They could have penalized Brad 10 to 25 points and he’d still pretty much be in the same boat, needing to win at Talladega. With this lack of penalty, NASCAR has pretty much said chase drivers can do whatever they want. Nothing that happened Saturday night crossed any line. Now you can expect to see all kinds of crap happening at the end of the race on pit road. A $50,000 fine and probation is not a deterrent. As the sport descends more and more into wrestling or reality television.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
Good thing it was not a Busch. People would be calling for a public hanging