Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Winless Champ Not Such a Stretch After All?

One week makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s win at Martinsville on Sunday, while great for the morale of the team, was a case of too little too late. After being eliminated from the Chase one week prior at Talladega, Earnhardt pulled through and won the very next week at Martinsville, a move that, had he still been in the Chase, would have earned him a spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Earnhardt’s championship performance this season was already garnering some outside media attention, but a guarantee of his championship eligibility on equal standing with three other drivers would have been a huge win for this sport where the headlines are concerned.

That’s one side of the story. The other side is that Earnhardt took away a potential win from a Chase driver, which would have secured them a championship seat at Homestead. Now there will only be two more races for any of the championship hopefuls to seal the deal. That means that, best case scenario, two drivers will make it to Homestead on points.

Credit: CIA Stock Photography
A better position at Talladega would have meant that Earnhardt’s Martinsville win would have gone towards a run at the title. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Let’s look at the top four in points now as they stand: Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth. Newman and Kenseth have not won a race this year, yet they would advance into Homestead anyway. Now, granted, a lot can happen in one race, let alone two and we’ve seen several Chase races this year that prove it only takes one event to make a world of difference. That could still be the case.

However, the fact that this is even a possibility is astonishing to me. I know that when I filled out my Chase Grid, Newman and Kenseth were certainly absent. Heck, when others said that a driver could sneak in and win this championship without a win, I vehemently shot it down. I still don’t think that will happen but the possibility is still sitting there staring me in the face.

With that said, Gordon and Logano have won a handful of races each for a reason, and I will be surprised if anyone other than a Chaser wins the next two weeks. That’s not to mention that a shuffle in points each week has become the norm rather than the exception. Would anyone be surprised if Kevin Harvick or Brad Keselowski redeem themselves next week, win the race, and advance onward? I know I wouldn’t.

I still enjoy this system and think that it really does emphasize winning more, but it turns out that consistency still has its advantages, especially when so many of the championship favorites have had problems in major races (which is pretty much all of them now).

If anything, though, I’m more intrigued to see what will happen with these dark horses now very plainly in the championship picture. Not only are there championship favorites in the mix, but there will now potentially be an underdog or two at Homestead. I would, personally, thoroughly enjoy that story. Though the odds are long for a team that has been mediocre to somehow be dominant at Homestead is unlikely, just the potential to see an underdog take the title sounds exciting.

Just don’t ask me to predict who the winner will be, because my Chase Grid is shot.

Now onto the mailbox:

“I was surprised to see that Danica said she wasn’t part of NASCAR’s diversity program and wasn’t even spoken to about it. I don’t understand that. Why wouldn’t they put the most famous female driver in the world through their program? That’s some serious star power they could use! Opportunity missed, in my opinion…” Terrence

Generally, the Drive for Diversity program is for drivers who aren’t already established in a major series and who don’t have their own funding to continue moving up the ladder. Obviously, Danica Patrick had already made a name for herself in the IndyCar Series and had plenty of funding behind her in the form of GoDaddy. So, she’s right, she didn’t benefit from such a program, but she didn’t really need it. Patrick already had all the resources she needed to make the transition to NASCAR.

I have to be honest, though. I liked Patrick’s comments. While I like the premise of what the program does (give drivers a chance to keep moving up), I don’t like that the opportunity is extended only to minorities and females. The opportunity to prove oneself in a situation like that should be extended to everyone, not just someone who fits into a specific category so NASCAR has a better image.

My favorite quote from her in this particular press conference was this one:  “My parents never brought me up to feel like I was any different. So, I was never taught to be the fastest girl. I was taught to be the fastest.”

I know and understand that Patrick has been afforded many of the opportunities she’s had partially because she’s a female, but she doesn’t ask for that special treatment. She’s given it by the media and sponsors and she makes the most of what she has.

Yes, I know, she doesn’t win many races, is horrifically uncompetitive despite being in good equipment, and had limited success in the IndyCar Series. I’ve been as big a critic of Patrick as anyone. But I think, in this case, she was spot on.

“I was thinking about something and wanted to see if I was understanding this right. Earnhardt was the first ‘non-Chaser’ to win in any Chase race this year even though he was just in the Chase last week. Does he count as a non-Chase win and, considering that so many good drivers have been eliminated, it stands to reason that all three winners in this round might be ‘non-Chasers’ or ‘prior Chasers’, right?” Beau

Holy cow, I feel like I just read a riddle.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s win would qualify as a non-Chase win because he was eliminated last week. So I think the answer to your first question is yes. An elimination is an elimination, period.

Your second point is true, too. Considering that Johnson and Earnhardt, two drivers who had already won several races this season, are out of the Chase, it would be easy to imagine that one of them could also win the last two races of the Eliminator Round. Add Kyle Busch into that group, too. The more drivers are eliminated, the better chance there is that they could steal wins from the current crop of Chase drivers.

I still don’t think all three races in the Eliminator Round will be won by non-Chasers, though, whether they had previously been in the Chase or not. The drivers

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
How much of an impact will non-Chasers have on the rest of the season? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

who are still in the Chase are still there for a reason and I think the strongest of the strong will prevail.

And no I’m not saying that Newman or Kenseth (or whoever) deserve to be there more than Earnhardt or Johnson. I’m just saying that I think the cream will rise to the top in the same way it happened at Talladega. The best will find a way.

“So considering that ebola has been centered around Texas, is the speedway going to be handing out complimentary HAZMAT suits to all their paranoid patrons?  I mean, I think that’s only fair. Personally, I’ll just bring some hand sanitizer.” Ashli

I sense the sarcasm in this post, but all the same, no HAZMAT suits. No air masks or respirators or anything preventive really because the so-called Ebola “epidemic” is no cause for alarm for anyone going to the race this weekend. Unless you plan on personally interacting with an Ebola patient, I would say you have nothing to worry about.

However, it’s still technically flu season, so keeping your hands clean and being careful about what you touch is probably not a bad idea. If it takes Ebola, though, to get that message across to people, I have lost all faith in our society.

I won’t lie, though. It would be funny as heck to watch a few humorous and/or paranoid fans walking around the grandstands in full body gear.

About the author

Promoted to editor in 2013, Summer is one of Frontstretch’s fast-rising young talents. While contributing to social media efforts, she also writes the weekly "Up To Speed" column. A Kansas native, Summer graduated with a Bachelor's in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2015. She also contributes to other media outlets such as Kickin' The Tires.

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Sad, I still think the only way a sane person can except (to a small degree) this new format of the horrible “Chase” if the ones most consistent all year…Harvick, Kez, Logano or Gordon got the Cup at Homestead. A Kenseth, Newman, Hamlin or Edwards would be farce of epic proportions.


Other than what? 0 wins. What has been inconsistent about Kenseth’s or Newman’s seasons? Seems to me consistency is exactly what got them to this point?

Carl D.

I dunno… a system that crowns a champion who has zero wins the entire season is pretty much the definition of a farce.

Bill B

I don’t know, let’s say 36 different drivers won one race each.
One driver never won but finished 2nd in all 36 races.
You tell me how best to determine the champion with that scenario.

Carl D.

In that case Brian France picks betwen Dale Jr. and Danica.


Simple Richie, this latest model of a farce is BZF said the emphasis is based on WINS, these two at this point have non. Yes Hamlin has one, Carl has two..but they are not in the same ballpark as the top 4 drivers. And that to me is more consistent..the top 4 drivers. Whole package. Ryan and Matt would be a farce.


I’m really curious. Does this column with its transparently made up questions leave you questioning just the integrity of the writer, or the site as a whole?

Carl D.

I’m not sure but I can tell you this… FS should either tell readers how to submit questions, explain where the questions come from, or admit that they are made up. To ignore the question and not adress the reader’s inquiries is a great big ‘ol middle finger directed right at us, the fans who show up day after day to read these columns.

Bill B

Come on, join the 21st century.
This is a virtual mailbox.
The people asking questions are virtual fans.
The questions are computer generated.
The answers are formulated by a computer with 1st generation Artificial Intelligence.

Now I’m not sure if we commenters are real or not either.
John Q and Carl D,,, can you both prove you’re real?

Carl D.

If I’m not real, then the IRS owes me one hell of a refund.


Is it just me or does this thread remind anyone of the Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs Spy”?

And just for fun a thought – when going head to head against the NFL on Sunday do you think the chase really matters? Just asking.

Tim S.

Oftentimes the “submissions” are the type of questions that one can answer with a Google search. Wait, how do we know that’s not where those responses come from in the first place?

Capt Spaulding

Since Matt M hung up writing “Thinking out Loud,” FS has been sprouting the NASCAR company line 75% of the time. As far as Summer’s writing,,,,,,I think we all need to smoke what she’s smoking and enjoy the chase. Not only does she imagine fans loving the chase format, she imagines fans with questions and chase bracket cards. You have to admire her originality.


Nothing would tickle me more than a non-race winning driver winning the “championship”. Especially if it means another step closer to ridding us of the “Great Chase Gimmick”.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see the changes Nascar makes for next year, considering that Jr. Is having a fantastic season this year and CAN’T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP.

It’s certainly not good for TV ratings that continue to drop.

Bill B

Amen on all three points.


Considering that the ratings for each race so far have dropped lower than last year, and that I’ve yet to see a sellout in the stands, I’d love to hear Brian’s rationalization for saying how wildly popular this crapshoot ‘chase’ is. As I recall, the loudest complaints about Kenseth winning the title without a win came from the media, not the fans. Under the old, season long format, I never heard and dispute about who won the title…especially since that took a back seat to each individual race. Making one single race more important than the previous 35…this ain’t baseball, brian.


I know in the past that commentators on this site have asked exactly how one submits a question to the NASCAR mailbox. Has anyone every received an answer? It seems odd to me that an article that addresses questions from readers doesn’t have a tag line at the end of the article that states something such as “Have a Question for Summer? E-mail her at Summer at Frontstretch.com”. It seems that having a line like that would be common sense.
I can only assume that Terrence, Beau (Really?), and Ashli (as well as Stephanie, Marco, and Celia from last week’s article) made the effort to go to the staff page to submit their questions? Somehow I’m having trouble making that leap. Does Summer use a baby name book to pick out the names for the questions?
In a related subject I did have Beau and Ashli in my Chase grid. For the record the few people that I know that are still (as of 7:34pm EST) NASCAR fans have not filled, nor will ever fill out a “Chase Grid”.


I’m a Joey fan, so I feel if he won the championship he’d deserve it. This is the only time he’s won multiple Cup races in one year, so we can’t dispute this has been his best year. He was in the top-10 after Richmond2, so he’d be in the Chase even if they used last year’s rules. Without the points reset, he was 4th, according racing-reference.info after that race. He’d be second without the Chase, they saw now.


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