I’m going to say a few things in defense of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now, for those of you who aren’t fans of the Chase, please be aware that I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind.
I have learned at least two things in a long career: First, don’t ever try to pull the wool over fans’ eyes. Be as accurate at you can because they know their stuff.
Second, do not try to alter their opinion. Maybe sometimes you can, but it won’t be often. They will not always agree with you – and, frankly, that’s a good thing.
That said I am of the opinion that the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix was, arguably, the best race of the year and the Chase had a lot to do with that.
Many of the closing laps of the race, and beyond, featured exciting, dramatic racing among a group of drivers who were motivated by the Chase. In other words they had to win or finish high enough in points to have a chance at the championship.
As you know only four drivers will contest for the title at Homestead. Believe me, those in contention knew this and tried everything they could to make the final four.
They moved high and low – and even dashed through the Phoenix International Raceway’s dogleg – to try to take the advantage. They took chances where otherwise they would not. If gaining a valued position meant roughing up a teammate, so be it.
This type of racing seemed almost constant. Of course it was great television but it was also the source of much excitement and response on social media.
More than one post said, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like racing!” or something very similar.
I would not disagree with that sentiment.
For quite a while, though, while the race would indeed determine the championship contenders, it appeared Alex Bowman would cruise to victory.
Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement at Hendrick Motorsports, won the pole to indicate he had something for the competition.
He led three times for 194 laps in the 324-lap race. Each time it seemed another had taken the measure of him he would plow right back into the lead.
Bowman figured prominently in the two “overtime” starts that heightened the race’s melodrama.
It was the first that shaped the outcome of the race and the determination of the final four.
Matt Kenseth, the race leader whose only hope of advancement was to win, led the field to the first overtime start with Bowman to his inside.
Kyle Busch, another contender, moved to the inside of Bowman, who countered the move with a block.
Kenseth, thinking he had a clear path, moved down the track. He clipped Bowman and wrecked, which wiped out his hopes for the championship. He finished 21st.
Naturally, Kenseth fans were upset. To lay full blame on their favorite driver would not be right. He fell victim to circumstances.
“It looked like he (Bowman) got a little run on me and I was cleared. So I started looking to the corner to approach it then I got turned out of the way.
“I was just going off the information I had to try to get the best corner I could and lead the remaining laps.”
Kenseth’s and Bowman’s demises – Bowman would finish sixth – put Joey Logano at the point for the second restart and he went on to win for the third time this season. That guaranteed him title shot.
Busch finished second – he and Logano had been scrapping all day – and made the final four on points, the only driver not to have won during the Chase.
A few more words about Bowman. It was suggested by some that he’s a “second rate” driver who ran well and could have won only because he was in a “first rate” car.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If Bowman were truly a “second rate” driver he would have never been selected to replace Earnhardt Jr.
His talent and skill were recognized. And, after a period of adjustment, he was able to show them at Phoenix.
By itself a “first rate” car can never win without its driver’s appropriate skills.
It works the opposite way. A “first rate” driver can’t win in a “second rate” car – well, more appropriately, he can’t win with a team unaccustomed to success. Just ask Clint Bowyer.
The championship challenge at Homestead is set. Logano will be seeking his first career title. Carl Edwards would like to eliminate the disappointment of 2011, when he tied in points with Tony Stewart but lost the title because he had fewer victories.
Busch has a chance to win a second championship, and we can safely assume that’s something he strongly desired when the season began.
Finally, Jimmie Johnson has the opportunity to enrich his name in NASCAR lore. He will race for a seventh career championship, which will tie him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with the most in the sanctioning body’s history.
It appears we may have the opportunity to see more dramatics.
And the Chase has played a big role in that.
EMAIL STEVE AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.