Several seasons ago NASCAR decided that it needed to lengthen the leash it had on the drivers and give them more of an opportunity to “work out” their differences. Drivers and fans alike welcomed the newfound freedom as it allowed the drivers to vent their anger while creating a great storyline for the fans to follow leading up to the next stop on the schedule.
NASCAR had been so strict with what a driver could do on his or her own that it took a while for the drivers to figure out what they could or couldn’t do to settle a difference with another driver. Drivers were used to getting fined anytime they confronted another driver but now all of a sudden the powers that be at the sanctioning body thought that it was good for the sport to let the drivers settle their own problems plus it made for great TV after the checkered flag waved.
NASCAR also decided that it needed to do something to add some excitement to the way it crowned its champion. The Chase format that had been in use since 2003 did add more excitement than the traditional point system that had been used for years, but even the Chase’s format had grown stale.
NASCAR’s solution to the Chase this year was a tweaking that not only rewarded winning but also turned the Chase into more of an elimination tournament. It didn’t take long after the Chase started for tempers to begin to heat up, and this past weekend Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick showed us just what the pressure of the new format can do to a driver who is trying to advance to the final race of the season with a chance to win the title.
Sunday at Texas it appeared that Gordon was in a position to not only race for the win, but to also post the kind of day in the points that would give him a little cushion going into Phoenix on Sunday. All of that changed when Brad Keselowski, who by his own admission needed a win in order to advance to Homestead-Miami with a chance for the title, saw a hole between Jimmie Johnson and Gordon on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish and decided to make a move.
That move, according to Harvick, was a “bulldozer mode” and it ended with Gordon suffering a cut left-rear tire that led to a 29thplace finish. The finish dropped him from first to fourth in the point standings.
Harvick’s role in the altercation between Gordon and Keselowski was nothing more than a push to the back of Keselowski and some advice that he needed to get in there and fight his own fight. The on-track action between the two drivers allowed Harvick to finish second and that helped him to reduce his point deficit from the fourth and final transfer spot by 22 points. He is now only six points behind Gordon for the fourth and final spot.
The results at Phoenix tightened up the entire points race for what could be four transfer spots due to the point standings if no Chase driver wins next week at Phoenix. Gordon sits in fourth with 4060 points and he is trailed by Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, who are tied with 4059. Keselowski in seventh is only five points behind Gordon with 4055 points, followed by Harvick with 4054.
That puts four drivers within six points of being in the fourth spot that may or may not end up being the last driver to transfer to the final race. Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin are tied for the top spot with 4072 points. In third is Ryan Newman who trails those two drivers by two points.
So from the top spot to the eighth spot the difference is only 17 points. The results from Texas showed that 17 points can be made up in only one race. That makes this week’s stop at Phoenix a free-for-all for the eight remaining drivers. A win would be nice, but with the points being so tight, every position on the track will be worth fighting for, so as NASCAR would say, “Boys, have at it!”
Event: Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500
Track: Phoenix International Raceway (1.0 mile oval, Turns: 1-2 banked 11o, Turns 3-4 banked 9o)
Date: Nov. 9, 3 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kevin Harvick