Dover Cage Match Produces Chase Battle, Driver Altercations, Possible Penalties For Winner Edwards

Charlotte, NC – Whether you love or hate the current format of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship Chase, you can?t argue that this year?s version is morphing into something very special.

Sunday?s Dodge Dealer?s 400 at Dover International Speedway had just about something for everybody. There was some good racing, a Talladega-style ?Big One? crash, and frayed tempers that ignited a near fight in the garage area after one on-track confrontation. At the end of the day, everyone got their money?s worth ?especially the fans that now have a championship race that has the Top-6 title contenders separated by just 18 points.

The ?Chase? concept has been battered by many (including this writer) since its inception in 2004. Contrived, convoluted, concocted, corny, the Chase has been an easy target for another ?C? word ? criticism ? and lots of it. This year, you can add ‘Competitive’ to the mix too.

After Dover, Jeff Gordon leads the standings by two points over Tony Stewart. Sunday?s Dover winner Carl Edwards is just three points back while last year?s champion Jimmie Johnson is four markers out of the top spot. Kyle Busch (-10) and last week?s winner, Clint Bowyer (-18) are all in the mix. That?s six drivers all with a legit shot at winning this year?s title.

At this point, picking one over the other as the favorite is fool?s play. Heck, at just 75 points back, you could make a strong argument that Jeff Burton in seventh has an awesome shot for the title. Ditto for Kevin Harvick (-115) or Matt Kenseth (-116). All you need is one race like Sunday?s Dover cage match to turn everything upside down. A win, and some misfortune by the other challengers, and you?re right back in this thing.

That?s what NASCAR was hoping for all along while it has continued to tweak the Chase format. Are the constant changes annoying ? you bet ? but the bottom line is we have the best point?s race in years. NASCAR has to be dancing in the halls at 1801 Speedway Boulevard in Daytona Beach, FL this morning. For the first time in years, they have something to sell every Sunday afternoon against the National Football League.

You should be dancing too. Like it or not, the Chase has given us a knockdown, drag out championship battle this year. Who cares how they got to it? This is some great stuff.

Round 2

If the point?s race doesn?t rev your engine, Sunday?s confrontation between Kyle Petty and Denny Hamlin had to get your attention.

The two tangled on Lap 204 of the Dodge Dealers 400 with the end result being Petty crashing into the front stretch wall and both cars heading to the garage area for repairs. There, Petty approached Hamlin while the latter was sitting in his car and an animated conversation ensued. The language, complete with hand gestures, was hardly ?G-rated? and ended with Petty taking a swipe at Hamlin?s helmet. Hamlin then bolted from his car and had to be restrained by several crew members as he tried to return the favor.

“Don’t smack me on the helmet. You smack me on the helmet and I’m going to punch you in the face, bottom line,? said Hamlin afterward. “You don’t come to my car; you don’t come to my pit. You meet me somewhere else and we’ll settle it. I have the utmost respect for Kyle, but don’t lay your hands on my head. He chose to slap my helmet. I have a short fuse. Don’t do that. He chose to slap my helmet, you know, in hindsight, I should have grabbed his throat.”

Preach on, brother.

In racing, you can run over someone?s race car on the track, wag your finger at them and cuss all you want later in the garage area, but put your hands on someone and it?s on baby. That?s just the way it is in racing.

From NASCAR’s early days in the 1950s to the Allison brothers versus Cale Yarborough at Daytona in 1979 to Petty and Hamlin Sunday, racing has always had its confrontations. It?s the way things get settled and truth be told, NASCAR doesn?t mind that much. It?s almost a hockey mentality. Confrontations make for good copy and good ratings, especially when it?s not a Pier 6 brawl like the Nancy-boy near shoving match we had Sunday.

Don?t look for any fines or penalties here ? just better ratings and plenty more to talk about heading into next week?s race.

TKO For Edwards?

Here?s a fight you can really get on the chip about ? post-race inspection penalties.

The right rear of Carl Edwards? winning Ford (right) was too low when it rolled through the height stick during the post-race tech inspection Sunday. Considered a minor infraction, the car will be further inspected by NASCAR in North Carolina later this week and penalties are sure to be announced. Whatever the determination, NASCAR has already announced it will allow the victory to stand.

NASCAR has historically been in the business of issuing post mortem penalties such as fines and docking points when a winner has been determined to be ?less than legal.? While this writer is all about fines, it?s our opinion that points earned on the track should never be taken away off of it. Points should be sacred. If you let the win, or finishing position stand, then the points should be retained as well.

Should NASCAR choose to dock Edwards points for the latest infraction ? something they most assuredly do later this week ? the decision could have a huge impact on the championship chase and ultimately cost Edwards the title.

Races and championship should always be determined on the track, not in a subjective manner in an office in Daytona, Charlotte, or anywhere else. Either vacate the win, throw the offender out for a week or two, or fine the heck out of them, but don?t take the points away. That?s too slippery a slope and one NASCAR should have climbed off of a long time ago.

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