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The Chase: What It All Means

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Truth be known, I don't actually know. The title sounds good, but this is of little substance.

Like many race fans, I was disgusted and then a short time later (and for the remainder of the broadcast) upset at the frequency of commercials during last Sunday's race at Richmond. Fans regularly email writers to complain, and are regularly told to stop emailing them about it, because they don't want to hear it. To them I say: tough shit.
I still have that race on my DVR, and to bolster complaints over at Turn 3, I spent about half an hour running numbers. Of little surprise, commercials accounted for 51 minutes of the 2.6 hour race, about one percentage point under a full third. This actually about normal for television, if Desperate Housewives or Lost were 2.6 hours long, they too would have about 50 minutes of spam. The problem wasn't the cumulative air-time, it was the frequency, where during the final hour of the broadcast, the 2.5 minute commercial breaks would often last longer than the racing action sandwiched in between them.

Many people in a position to "know" say that the network has to make back the money it spent buying the rights to the race, so those commercials are just a fact of life, but this isn't entirely true. The network could take a more aggressive negotiating stance to make the broadcast license from NASCAR cheaper. They could continue to show the race, sans announcers, in a small one-quarter-screen box, as I believe some networks do with other racing series. They could even just eat a percentage of the deficit from showing fewer commercials. If I had my way, I would take fewer commercial breaks, but show longer commercials. That's how everybody else does it.

This broadcast had commercial breaks averaging about two minutes and thirty seconds each, and while my idea could extend them to as much as four minutes, there would be nearly half as many interruptions. We are all used to 3-4 minute commercial breaks for prime-time television, and honestly, if football can manage to show the entire game while still fitting in all of their commercials, NASCAR and TNT/NBC can do it as well.

That issue aside, I sent these numbers to the guy I just linked above to see if he wanted them for his post. He came back within a reasonable amount of time this morning and said he was interested, and we decided that it would be best to place the statistics I sent him (which were fairly detailed) at the end of his post, rather than having the information languish in the comments -- that being the only place I could have put them. Come to find this evening that he never added them to his post, as he said he would, and instead the information is sitting at the very bottom of the comments -- unattributed -- now in the form of a single number (32% of the race was commercials), rather than a page-and-a-half that I put a decent amount of effort into figuring out.

Well, that happens, so I march off to read a story on by writer Ryan Smithson. Now Smithson has a regular Wednesday column he does called the power rankings (and you'll see that a lot of places are doing those now, for all sports.) Each drivers position is accompanied by hysterical bits of commentary, some of it true, most of it not. Either way, it's the best content on the entire site because it's just too damn funny.

The story yesterday morning had a simple statement - "To win the Chase, the champion
must blaze through the final 10 races with a slew of top-five
finishes, and Hamlin had just four of those in the first 26 races." I fired off an email, noting that Tony Stewart, last years champ, had only an average finish during those 10 races of about 13.1, and I questioned the necessity of having to have a bunch of top-fives to win it all. Now I didn't really expect an answer; most people like him blow people off or just ignore anything that isn't of value to them, but I did get a reply, though it was utterly stupid.
"5 top-fives in 10 races isn't a slew?"
That's it. He didn't address my concern in the least, instead, he sent off this disjointed joke of a reply. I really expected something more from this guy -- he's a paid writer for and supposedly qualifies as a journalist. Instead of that, I get something that looks like a 15-year-old barfed it up via AIM. Well, fine -- I don't give up that easy.
Of course, but that's not really what I meant. I didn't go and look up
the actual numbers, so if Tony or anyone else in last years Chase had
that many top-5's, that's obviously a pretty big number. But that his
average finish was 13th or so, it's not really *required*, is all I

You can put them together any way you want to get that average, all
13th place finishes, or some 15ths with some 5's in there, obviously
you'd know better than I what the actual numbers were; I'm just
speaking hypothetically about this year versus last. I just
thought it didn't sound quite right to say to win the championship,
you gotta have the proverbial "slew" of top-5's.

I just picked some numbers out of the air here: 13, 15, 7, 17, 10, 15,
13, 4, 10, 20. The average for those finishes is 12.4, which would
have beaten Stewart's 13.1 (if that number is even right, it may not
be.) Just one top-5 in there, and you could even factor it out if you
fudge a bit. (Something I noticed looking at the points the other day,
when you sort by points, you automatically sort by avg finishing
position as well, which means best avg finishing pos. should also mean
most points in that span.)

Kind of see what I mean now? I'm not trying to be a know-it-all, I'm
genuinely interested if you're saying you need a solid number of
top-5's to take the trophy down.

Thanks for answering.
Though his initial response came within 40 minutes, I haven't heard back going on 24 hours now. I guess it stings to have some random "fan" from the Internet make you look like an idiot. On to things even less important...

To everyone that thinks the rules need to be changed because of Kasey Khane: shut up. First of all, the kid made it on his own, he doesn't need sympathy-based rule changes. Second, I wouldn't have cared in the least if he missed the Chase. 5 wins? Who cares. If you want to make the Chase, you have to run decent all year, and if you can't do that, you didn't earn it. What part of that don't you understand? While the other guys that made it, Kasey was driving his car off the track on the last lap, on the last turn at Watkins Glen. That's not a DNF, a mechanical failure, or bad luck. The dumb ass slid off the course literally like fifty yards from the finish line. Champions don't make mistakes like that.

There have been a lot of people bitching that Dave Blaney had a top-5 at Richmond, but nobody hardly mentioned his name during the entire race, or after it. Well duh, it was the end of the 'regular season' for Cup. Dave Blaney hasn't run well all year, and one lucky run isn't cause for celebration, much less celebration at the suffrage of all the guys who have run well, and just made the playoffs. Get serious, this is supposed to be a sport, right? On the last day of the MLB regular season, do we take time away from the pennant winners to talk about how Kansas City (worst team in baseball) won their very last game with a 15-0 shutout? No, of course not. Kansas has sucked all year long, and the playoffs are for winners, not losers.

For all the people that want to increase the number of points distributed to race winners, I only have one thing to say: all you are going to do is make it that much more impossible for anyone but Jimmie Johnson to win a championship. Johnson and Kenseth were sitting over 300 points in front of a guy that was sitting in 4th place in the number of series wins this year after Richmond was over. If you give more points for winning, the only result is that while Kasey Khane would be between 5th and 8th in the standings heading into Richmond, Kenseth and Jimmie would be up 400-500 points instead of 300. Literally only one guy would benefit: Khane, and he doesn't deserve it with the on-again-off-again year he has had. He just hasn't earned it.

Likewise, it should have been no big surprise that Tony Stewart missed the chase. Going into it last year, he had something like 5 wins in the 10 races leading up to the cutoff. That's how he stormed into the chase, and that's pretty much how he won it all. He had a badass year, but not today, and not this time. This year has been sour at best. Ten other guys ran better than Tony did, so why does Tony deserve to be in it? He doesn't. You have to run well, and earn your damn way in, and Stewart couldn't do it.

Anybody who claims not to have seen it coming simply wasn't paying attention. Stewart has been languishing between 7th and 10th for the past month or so. Even his 2nd place at Watkins Glen wasn't that impressive, given his enormous talent at road courses, you practically have to expect a good finish there. It's like Khane at 1.5 mile cookie-cutters: top-5 is expected, and anything less signals a real breakdown. That 2nd for Stewart put him back into the top 10 in points, into 7th I'm pretty sure, and then he immediately dropped again. The warning signs were written all over the place, and people should have known better.

Who was the stones to win the championship...

Denny Hamlin may not be folding under the pressure, but he isn't excelling either. The only tracks he has been a threat to win at are in the rear-view mirror. He'll finish between 5th and 10th. Next year, you better watch out though.

Kyle Busch won at Loudon earlier this year, but no place since. He will be a threat to win, but so will other chasers. Hendrick cars in general and Kyle in particular are always good on cookie cutter tracks, just like Roush. If he can win early on, he may be hard to beat if he -- like everyone -- survives Talladega.

Mark Martin wants to go home more than he wants to win races. I picked him to fall out at Richmond, but the stubborn old bastard refused to give in. Sadly, it will take more than that to win the title. You need to run just a little bit better than 9 other guys, and so far this year, Martin hasn't shown the ability to run with them on a consistent basis, much less beat them.

While certainly better than last year, Jeff Gordon still isn't showing the form that won him four titles. He is a threat to win at most places, mostly because he already has won at most places -- not because he has been that top-3 threat this year. He hasn't really been better than a 5th-11th place driver this year, so that's where he will finish.

Jeff Burton knows how to win races, he has 17 victories with Roush, and has come close to getting at least three or more with RCR this year, always coming up short. I happen to believe that part of Burton's resurgence has been with the help of crew chief Gil Martin, the guy who helped Clint Bowyer finish the BGN standings in second place last year. The problem is that Gil seems like he has the same problem Kasey Khane had: he is stuck in Busch mode. BGN runs much shorter races but at the same tracks as Cup. It took Khane a while to really grasp the concept that he didn't have to run full-out from the drop of the green flag, that he could just ride around for a while, get a feel for where his car was, then make long-term adjustments, not just quickies. Once he had it down, Khane took off, but will Burton's chief? If Gil Martin can figure it out staring right now, Burton will win the championship. But I just don't think Gil will figure it out this year.

Kenseth has one title and wants another. Without the chase, it would be down to him and Johnson, with Kenseth the likely title winner. Four wins and a "slew of top-fives" has been the story all year, and Roush cars as of the past two years have utterly dominated mile-and-a-half tracks, which make up the majority of the chase. Lately, Gibbs and RCR have caught up. It may very well come down to a shootout between Kenseth and Harvick if neither has mechanical problems.

Jimmie Johnson was the best driver during the first 26 races. During the final 10, not so much. Though he did come back to life during the end of the first chance, winning six of the ten chase races, he slowed down so much before that point that he missed the title. Last year, same story; awesome during the first 20, then faded. This year? You've heard this song before. Johnson is cooked, finishes 5th or worse.

didn't have so many bad finishes that were the direct fault of him and his team (non-mechanical/accidents), he gets in by a wide margin, and starts in the top-5 in points. Kasey Khane lit NASCAR on fire during the first ten races, winning four and establishing himself as a true title contender. Then he absolutely bombed, falling from the top ten and looking as if he would come up short. Then he won at Fontana, and finished third at Richmond. Coupled with Tony Stewart's meltdown, Khane raced his way in like Kenseth did last year. But let's not forget some key points here: If Stewart doesn't meltdown like he did, Khane misses the chase; if KhaneKhane just barely made it in, but there is a lengthy lesson in sports: teams that back in to the playoffs always suck out, primarily because of the reason they barely got there in the first place: they suck. Khane is not a serious contender this year, and he has nobody else to blame but his team and rotten luck.

Dale Jr. has had times when he has won 6+ races in a season, but never really been in that first or second-place spot to contend for a title. The man has enormous talent, but the down slide at DEI has kept him down over the past two years, and this chase will be no different. Nobody can overcome shitty cars. Not Jr., not even Tony Stewart. Jr. is usually a threat to win at Talladega, but that was with Michael Waltrip glued to his bumper. Waltrip sucks so bad this year that it is my guess that he won't even make the race on qualifying time, and even if he does, his cars suck so bad that Jr. won't be able to draft with him. Truex has shown no ability to run fast this year, so he's out. If Jr. can hook up with Tony, or someone like that, he might win. Other than that, I don't see him running top-fives at any other track. Add to that the aforementioned shitty cars, and Jr. goes home disappointed. Jr. has said that he needs to win a title at DEI, the he would like to finish his career at RCR driving the #3. Earth-to-Junior: bail now while RCR is on the rise, you won't get another chance.

My boy Harvick finished 5th earlier this year at Loudon, and is obviously in championship form. Am I blowing smoke? Not a chance. The reason Jimmie Johnson has been so dominant during his career is because he and his team can turn bad days into okay days. Blew a tire? He's still good for a top-10. Eat the wall? top-15 and still on the lead lap. Harvick hasn't shown that capability before now, but this year he and his team have found it. He blew a tire and hit the wall at Bristol and finished 11th. He was challenging Michigan winner Matt Kenseth for the lead early on before spinning himself out and ruining his cars aerodynamics on a down force track that demands a perfect car body. Result: 11th. The second-to-last chase race is PIR, where Harvick has already won this year, and he just won last week at Richmond, where he by all rights should have won in the spring as well. Sitting third in points, if he can get out in front of the standings early on, PIR may be able to seal the greatest accomplishment in NASCAR history: winning both the Cup and Busch titles in the same year.

There you have it. Harvick and Kenseth will battle it out for the title, while Kyle Busch will make it interesting and possibly a three-way fight.
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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.