NASCAR 'playoffs' need some tweaks

September 16th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: NASCAR 'playoffs' need some tweaks

David Coffin Pit Stop

Is the Chase for the Cup working? You be the judge.
NASCAR came up with its version of a playoff system to try to stimulate more interest from folks who might slip away once the NFL started regular-season play and among those who switch the TV from Nextel Cup broadcasts to the baseball playoffs and World Series.

The top 10 in points after the first 26 races of the season are eligible for the series championship. Their points are reset with the leader going into the final 10 races awarded 5,050 points and each of the next nine drivers five points less than the previous position down to 5,005 for 10th place. Any driver within 400 points of the leader after those first 26 races is also eligible for the Chase, but that hasn't been a factor in the first three years of the "playoffs."

All who qualify still race in each of the final 10 events and points continue to be awarded to everyone in the same manner as they have all season. Incentive for the remainder of the field is a $1 million bonus for the 11th place finisher at season's end.

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion for Roush Racing, won the 2003 championship under the old format. He became the fourth driver in Cup history to earn the title with only one victory during the 36-race season; the last one before him was Benny Parsons in 1973. The other two were Ned Jarrett (1961) and Bill Rexford (1950).

Kenseth comes into the Chase, which begins this weekend in Loudon, N.H., on a roll. He won two straight races, took over the championship lead from Jimmie Johnson with a seventh in the Sony HD 500 at California Speedway, and last week he was eighth at Richmond.

Kenseth is one of only three drivers, along with Johnson and Mark Martin, to make it into the Chase each of the three years.

This year, it is going to be possible for a driver without any race wins to capture the championship. Martin (No. 6 AAA Roush Racing Ford Fusion) and Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Richard Childress Racing Chevy) have yet to win in 2006 and, with the points change for the Chase, find themselves 30 and 35 points out of first place, respectively.

Also, the reigning Nextel Cup champion, Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy), had two bad weeks in the final three races with a 22nd at the Sharpie 500 at Bristol and an 18th at the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond and did not qualify for the Chase.

Returning to the Chase this year after missing 2005 are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser DEI Chevy), perennially voted the Most Popular Driver by the fans, and four-time Cup champion Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Hendrick Chevy).

NASCAR President Mike Helton has said they are going to look at "tweaking" the Chase a little bit. Something does need to be done, such as putting more importance on winning each week and some sort of champion's exemption, at least for the reigning champ and perhaps the previous five champions or something of that nature. I don't think it's a good thing to have the defending champ on the outside looking in (even though I'm not a Tony Stewart fan).

Harvick on the move
Harvick comes into the Chase with momentum after posting a double win at Richmond, taking the checkered flag in both the Busch Series Cup. He was asked who he thought might be among the favorites heading into the Chase.

"I think we are a favorite," Harvick said Friday. "I think it is wide open now. Anybody can get on a roll at this point.

All 10 Chase teams are capable of putting together 10 solid weeks and winning at any of the tracks we are going to. I think that will be clearer in the next three or four weeks, but right now it is wide open.

"Obviously, I think you have to look at the No. 17 (Kenseth) because they have been so strong the last 10 weeks."

Lewis Franck, writing for, pointed out the Harvick was close to leaving Richard Childress Racing after being with them for seven years. Childress was the late Dale Earnhardt's team owner and it has taken a long time for the team to overcome the death of "The Intimidator."

"I'll be honest with you: I would have fired my butt three or four years ago," said Harvick after winning last week. "But, you know, Richard is the type of person (who) gives you a chance and lets you explore the world and try to realize who you are."

Franck continued: "The reorganization of RCR was moving, just not at the pace Harvick wanted - and, more importantly, needed. A hard charger on the track, Harvick admits now that he wasn't diplomatic at crucial times. 'I've left competition meetings before with everybody looking at me like I was the biggest butt in the whole entire world because they didn't like what I had to say,' he says."

Harvick is convinced now that RCR is moving in the right direction, the two reconciled any differences they might have had and Harvick signed a three-year contract extension this year.

"I go to the track now thinking we can win every week," Harvick said. "Championship teams are teams that have been together for years, not months. That's what we have."

A.J.'s racing the truck

A.J. Allmendinger, whose family home is in Hollister, struggled at first but got better as the day progressed in his first foray into NASCAR Craftsman Truck competition Friday. He did not do so well in the opening practice session but was fifth among 16 rookies in their practice and eighth in the final session.

"The first 20 to 25 laps I was kind of wondering why I decided to do this, I was all over the place," said Allmendinger, who is second in Champ Car World Series points. "I kind of got it settleddown and got a good feel for it and the team kept working on the truck."

Earlier this season, Allmendinger was released by RuSPORT Racing and began examining options. He tested with Bill Davis Racing in a Toyota Tundra and did well enough that he was invited to do two late season races, this weekend in New Hampshire and later at Talladega.

"Right now I have no contract," Allmendinger said. "We're in talks. If I'm back in Champ Car I would especially like to be back with (Forsythe). The popularity in NASCAR is there, the exposure. We're here trying it and seeing what it's like. Who knows? I have no clue if after these two races anybody would want to sign me or if after one practice session if I want to be here full time.

"That's part of the excitement."

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