Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rating the Wonderful Pistachios 400: 5 Stars *****

The Sprint Cup Series drivers battled through a wild night at Richmond International Raceway to set the field for the 2011 Chase. The action track certainly lived up to its name, and the final race of the regular season gets a 5 Star Rating.

This type of race came out of nowhere. Sure, there have been some exciting races lately and a few with several hard wrecks, but cars wrecked nearly from the drop of the green flag Saturday night and drivers stood in the gas all night long, causing 15 cautions, the second-most this season and most since the Daytona 500.

Maybe the new Chase format spiced things up for this race. Last year’s race was very clean with only three cautions. Also, most of Saturday night’s wrecks were because drivers tried to force their way into a hole, especially early in a race, and we haven’t seen that in quite a while.

NASCAR may have finally settled on a system that will produce the excitement it has been trying to manufacture for years.

The entire race felt like it was the final 10 laps at Talladega where all heck breaks loose.

The craziness started early and involved several of the main Chase contenders. Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all sustained damage in the second wreck of the evening.

As it turns out, the points standings didn’t change at all and everybody who was in the Chase coming into the race left Richmond with a Chase spot. But the #88 hung on a small limb off the edge of a cliff for most of the night.

At times, Dale Jr. was only four points from falling out of the top 10 in the standings after he got caught up in the early wreck and then traded blows with Travis Kvapil of all people, and spun Kvapil out on lap 154.

However, Dale Jr. and Kvapil weren’t the only two drivers to engage in short track vengeance. Marcos Ambrose and Brian Vickers ran into each other, and Vickers got parked by NASCAR for blocking Ambrose under the caution. Also, possibly the most interesting battle of the night, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson took turns spinning each other out.

The Busch-Johnson battle has simmered for years now and could really blow up if they meet during the Chase. Thankfully, both were already locked into the Chase and didn’t have anything to lose by trying to ruin each other’s night. That situation could be a lot different if it happens again sometime in the next 10 weeks.

Along with the carnage, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards had a good race to the finish as Harvick crossed the line with Edwards inches from his rear bumper.

Harvick deserved to win the race. He had the best car for most of the night even though the running order kept getting shuffled because of all the wrecks.

The win gives Harvick four on the season and he will start the Chase on top with Kyle Busch.

Overall, the changes to the points system and Chase format this year worked well during the regular season. It will be interesting to see how the Chase plays out, but it’s unlikely one driver will run away with the championship since several contenders have been on top of their game in recent weeks.

Have a good week everybody and enjoy this year’s Chase.


  1. I think it was Gene that said whoever it was with NASCAR that came up with this Chase concept deserves a medal. I know it definitely kept my interest up and from the looks of it, the new wild card format influenced the drivers and their teams as well... There were 8 drivers and teams that could, one way or another, either be in or out of the Chase going into Richmond and I'd say even though the final field remained unchanged after all was said and done, those elements of impending disaster and/or ultimate exhaltation were there right up to the end. Yep, 5 stars!

    We need more of these moments but I guess they'd lose their appeal if they were a regular occurence.

    I'm thinking at least for the first few Chase races these guys will play nice with each other, come race six and things start to look desperate for a few of them, then look out!

    Thanks jmayer!

  2. 5 stars as I giggled and hooted thru much of the race! payback central, three wide desperation and plenty of boys have at it on and after the race!

    The media center was PRICELESS!! PRICELESS! Most awkward fabulous thing ever...oh I wish I were in there....

  3. Wow! Great & TRUE statement "the excitement Nascar has been trying to manufacture for years!"

  4. Dwindy1 - You're probably right about how the Chase will go. All of a sudden a lot of drivers went from having nothing to lose to having plenty to lose and they'll need to play it safe. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    klvalus - Hahaha, that press conference was ridiculous. Quite possibly the most bizarre two minutes in NASCAR media history. Only nine weeks until Phoenix!

    ATHENS - Hopefully they finally found a solution that works. I think NASCAR fans are more than ready for a little consistency with each year's rules.