NASCAR ‘Race For The Chase’ Doesn’t Have Much Suspense, Media Punch

Over the next seven weeks, the NASCAR public relations department and various media outlets will be beating the drums to fuel interest in the ?Race for the Chase? and who will qualify for the final 12 spots and shot at the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup championship.

Talk about much ado about nothing.

If you really stretch the math, you have eight drivers fighting for the final four spots in the Chase. Of the eight, only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has the star power to peak media interest. No disrespect to the others ? Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, or Greg Biffle ? but none of them is ever going to carry the day when it comes to media interest.

And, in reality, that?s what the Chase is all about.

When the Chase format was implemented for the 2004 season, the goal was to create more excitement with the fans and gain more attention in the media. Looking at this year?s standings heading into the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis this weekend, it?s hard to imagine it doing either.

Jeff Gordon is at the top of the standings and has made the regular season battle a runaway with 2,911 points ? 303 markers in front of Denny Hamlin?s 2,608 total. Gordon is 660 points in front of Earnhardt, Jr., currently in the 12th and final qualifying spot for the Chase. A quick trip through the calculator indicates that Gordon could basically take the next three races off and still comfortably qualify for the final 10 Chase races this season.

Some drama.

Matt Kenseth (2,565 points) is currently third in the standings and is also comfortably in the Chase. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton (2,491), Carl Edwards (2,473), Tony Stewart (2,429), Jimmie Johnson and (2.423) are separated by just 68 points, so you could see some jockeying there for the fourth through eighth spots in the final ?regular season? standings.

No matter what that outcome is for these four drivers, all are a lock for the Chase this season.

Kevin Harvick also appears to be safely in the Chase based on his 2,337 point total, but could have some nervous moments if he has trouble in more than one of the final seven races as he is only 86 in front of Earnhardt Jr?s. 12th-place total of 2,251 points. Also joining Earnhardt, Jr. on the bubble for the Chase are Kyle Busch (2,314), Bowyer (2,281), Truex, Jr. (2,208).

Currently on the outside looking in are Newman, 30 points out of 12th heading into Indy with 2,221 points, Kurt Busch (2,074, 74 points out), McMurray (2,040, 111 points out), and Biffle (1,966, 185 points out),

If you are in the handicapping business, you have to think Harvick is going to be steady enough to make the Chase. Meanwhile, Biffle hasn?t done anything all year and is a full race worth of points out of the 12th spot, so he?s already likely out of contention. That leaves the rest to fight it out for the final spot.

Exciting for the fans? Maybe.

Compelling enough to draw major media attention? Probably not, unless Earnhardt, Jr. is still on the bubble when the Cup Series steams into Richmond for the final ?qualifying race? for the Chase the weekend of September 7-8.

In the end, it might not matter anyway as that?s opening weekend for the National Football League. Only a seismic shift in the sports landscape ? even with Earhnardt, Jr. battling to get into the Chase ? is going to knock pro football off the front, middle and back sports pages that weekend.

With the top spot in the regular season points battle already determined and all the big names ? Gordon, Kenseth, Stewart, Burton, Edwards, Johnson and Harvick ? all but locked in, there doesn?t appear to be much to be excited about when it comes to who?s in and who?s out of this year?s NASCAR Chase for the Championship.

Too bad we still don?t have the old championship point?s format in place, the pre-2004 model. You remember the one, when all the races and the points all drivers earned during the regular season counted toward the championship.

If that were still the case, we?d still have 17 races instead of seven meaningless races and 10 title events to decide this year?s champion. Meanwhile, drivers like Biffle, Casey Mears, Juan Pablo Montoya, J.J. Yelley and even Mark Martin ? all now in the Top-20 in points ? would have a chance to finish in the Top-10 instead or riding around finishing out the string with nothing but 13th in the standings to race for.


Hopefully, the next seven races leading up to the Chase ? Indy, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, California and Richmond ? will provide plenty of compelling action and excitement because, on the surface, the ?Race for the Chase? appears to be down a cylinder or two this season.

Last Call ?

Ever wonder why drivers are so eager to get to the Cup ranks? Competing at the top level of stock car racing in this country is surely the answer you?ll get almost all of the time, but the money is plenty good too. Just ask Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann.

Both are having less than memorable seasons struggling to make races much less be factor in the ones they do compete in. Both drivers have been in 13 events so far this year. Neither has a win, Top-5 or Top-10 finish. For those efforts, Jarrett has banked $1,303.527 in prize money (an average of $100,271 per event) while Reutimann has taken home $1,189,062 in winnings ($91.466 per event average).

Meanwhile, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Mike Skinner is having a career year. In 13 NCTS events, Skinner, a former Cup pilot, has a division-high four victories. He also has 11 Top-5 finishes and has finished in the Top-10 in all 13 Truck Series races this season.

His winnings – $479,300, or an average of $36,869 per event.

Given most Cup drivers get a pretty hefty base salary and 40-50 percent of the team winnings (plus bonuses for wins, poles, Top-5 and Top-10 finishes), you have to think Skinner wishes he was having that kind of success in the Cup Series this season.

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