Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 25 - Teams Labor to Clinch Final "Chase" Berth in Hot 'Lanta

The biggest story entering Sunday night’s 500 lap race at Atlanta is the status of the Chase for the Championship with just two laps to go. Barring a historical collapse, there is one spot still in contention with Clint Bowyer enjoying a 100 point lead in 12th position. This means the final seeding in “The Chase” is essentially his to lose. His competition consists of two drivers quite capable of giving him all he can handle, Jamie McMurray, 100 points out, and Mark Martin, 101 points out. Ryan Newman, 118 points behind and Kasey Kahne, short by 136 points will have their most charged up fans arguning their still in the hunt too, but let’s be real. What would it take for either McMurray or Martin to advance into the top 12? Probably nothing that they are in control of themselves. It would require some catastrophic results for the #33 team.

Certainly, the remaining 11 drivers who are either locked into The Chase or all but for certain will be thinking about snagging a win or two before the checkered flag falls at Richmond to improve their seeding in the field. Jimmie Johnson, who has looked miserable most of the summer, will suddenly be top dog again, likely tied with Denny Hamlin unless one of those two drivers win another race in the next two weeks. Both drivers have five wins. Checking in next with three wins are Kevin Harvick, the current points leader and Kyle Busch, who appears the hottest driver in the sport right now. Kurt Busch has two wins and Greg Biffle has one victory. None of the rest of the field, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, or Bowyer have a single win. Of the four drivers outside looking in, McMurray has his two bold victories for the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard. Ryan Newman has one win. With only half the potential field having victories, six drivers would be tied at the bottom of the elite 12 select drivers.

The Atlanta race will be the last second race of the season for the historic track. Next year, there will be one race, the Labor Day event moving the other date to an early summer date at the Kentucky Motor Speedway with a little schedule juggling. For many years, Atlanta has been an underperforming racetrack, though last year’s Labor Day weekend race was well supported.

NASCAR must address assertively the “start and park” phenomenon. With 47 entries for Sunday night’s race, four cars will be sent home. Let’s hope they are parking lot attendants and not race car drivers. At least twelve entries are possible quitters. What does the sport gain from including drivers who do little more than go on a few parade laps early in the race? We’ve heard the drivers argue they are getting exposure and might gain a sponsor or better ride by doing so, but what measure on a driver’s talent is available from just plodding around the track for a few laps?

NASCAR must legislate no team may compete without having a fully staffed support operation with pit crew and spotters. They must also purchase enough tires to complete the race. For his lack of efforts, Joe Nemechek has “earned” $1,887,940.00 so far this season. Granted he must pay for his racecars, some staff, transportation to and from each event, and other expenses, nevertheless, this is his second year attempting to complete a full season as a charity case. There must be enough for him and his family business to keep afloat. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will cut its purses 20% next year. The IRL races with a smaller field at no cost to the quality of competition. It’s hard to understand why NASCAR allows such a sham.

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