Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rating the Kobalt Tools 500: 4 Stars ****

Just when it looked like we might have a good idea of who would bring home the 2010 Sprint Cup Series title, Denny Hamlin pitted from his second-place position while Jimmie Johnson held on to finish fifth. Now, the champoinship battle is tighter than ever. The second-to-last race of the year gets a 4 Star Rating.

Overall, much of the race was pretty typical Phoenix-style racing. Similar to New Hampshire, it is really hard to pass, and therefore the leader can stay out front forever. However, and I think the spoiler has helped this issue in the majority of races this season, the leader never immediately jumped out to a two-second lead. The car in second was able to hang with the leader for long stretches throughout the race. Mark that down as a change that worked.

As the race headed into its final 100 laps, it looked like Hamlin would finish off a dominating performance and take a Johnson-type lead with him into Homestead next week.. Instead, the caution with 79 laps to go set the stage for what turned into a stomach-churning, drama-filled finish. This had to be one of the “game seven” moments NASCAR had asked for when it debated changing the Chase format. Harvick’s missing lugnut could have ended his chances, Johnson could have run out of fuel and Hamlin likely would have run out of fuel if he hadn’t pitted. Not only was the race on the line that last run, but the season was on the line.

Fuel-mileage races always bring with them an added amount of drama, but the addition of a championship battle made it all the more tense. This race actually had the feel of what most of the fall Richmond races are like, ironically, except for this season. I said at the end of the regular season I would take a good championship battle instead of a close battle for 12th at Richmond, and that is what we have.

People have talked a lot about possible changes to the Chase, and many ideas centered around an elimination-style format. But, that type of format would have actually taken some of the drama out of the finish to this season. Right now Hamlin and Johnson will go toe-to-toe next week and whoever finishes higher will likely win the title, but the fact that Harvick is still well within striking distance brings in an added element of excitement. If Hamlin and Johnson both falter, the #29 car will do burnouts after the race.

So, now that we have the closest championship battle in the Chase’s short history, let’s dream a little bit. Johnson is only 15 points behind Hamlin. Now, depending on who has what as far as bonus points are concerned, 15 points could be the difference between first and second. Carl Edwards got 20 more points than second-place finisher Ryan Newman, who didn’t lead a lap. Think about this, Hamlin and Johnson drive their way to the front throughout the race and end up first and second on the final run. They then give it everything they have and end up in a battle simlar to the one Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven had at Darlington in 2003, and the race comes down to a photo finish for the race and the championship. That would be thrilling.

Before we move on, congratulations to Edwards and the #99 team. It’s been a long time coming, but the Ford camp has picked up its game during the second half of this season and might well have somebody in the championship hunt at this point next season.

So here it is, the race we’ve all been waiting for. This year’s Chase will go down as one of the greatest ever, and the stage is set for the race at Homestead to be one that NASCAR fans for years to come will look back on and say, “Wow. What can we do to make the racing more like it was in 2010?”


  1. Good one jmayer!

    What can be done to raise the drama to yet another level? How about teammates coming into play to determine the eventual outcome?

    Will we see the three Hendrick drivers bumping and grinding against the two other RCR and JGR team's entrants as they all do whatever they can to insure Denny's or Jimmie's or Kevin's victory?
    Will we have F1 type team orders?
    Will there be fisticuffs after the race?

    Great drama could ensue! Must see TV if fans can't be in attendance. Just what NASCAR needs!

    Thanks jmayer!

  2. The Greatest Chase Ever! That's not saying much, but this year NASCAR has been redeemed with this Chase format. There will be no changes to it during the off-season.

    Finally, some drama at the final race!

  3. The crew chiefs of the three contenders are definitely earning their money! But could you imagine if there were no Chase? Homestead would be a coronation for Kevin Harvick as the new champion. All Harvick has to do Sunday is finish four places ahead of Johnson and eight places ahead of Hamlin to be champion.

  4. Dwindy1 - Teammates might come into play, but I don't think anyone is going into this race with that as their first priority. Please don't turn this into F1. lol. A fight after the race would be incredible. I think the crews would be more likely to get into it than the drivers, at this point.

    Gene - If NASCAR wants to burn the rest of its bridges, then it should change the format. Unless it went back to the classic system, I think plenty of people would just give up on the sport.

    jon_464 - Maybe it all evens out in the end. Last year Stewart and Johnson would've had a heck of a battle to the finish and this year would've been a runaway victory for Harvick. In any case, this race should be a blast.

  5. Definitely agree with Gene - no off season chase changes as the racing has been outstanding. I think the problem with NASCAR is their ability to change the rules upon a whim - fans suffer thru boring seasons because its just what is done making the exciting ones more exciting - I have yet to witness and exciting NFL playoff! LOL

    Anyway - good to see some different strategy come into play at PHX - not typically a fuel mileage race.

  6. I agree the season seems more dull, but I think it is because once drivers are securely in the chase, they begin preparing for the chase. The only suspense in the Summer is between the drivers in 8th through 16th; the guys at the top are driving safe.