The Nextel Cup Series has finally made it to the playoff round known as the Chase after a long and grueling 26-race schedule that might be more remembered for the news made off the track instead of the racing itself.
The sport’s silly season of rumors seems to have coincided with the waving of the green flag back in February at Daytona and has just now started to slow down as all but a handful of teams, drivers and sponsors have announced their plans for the 2008 season.
The race to make the Chase lacked drama when compared to the previous three years, but the lineup that has moved into the playoff round of 10 races should put on a heck of a show as the schedule winds down to the final weekend at Homestead-Miami. Before we get started with the Chase next weekend at New Hampshire, let’s take a look at some things I know (at least think I know) for sure about the sport.
What I know: Dale Jr. will never get any relief from the media. Sure, he has been the center of 90 percent of the media coverage this season with his departure from DEI. You would think that by Dale Jr. missing the Chase, the media would move on. It wasn’t bad enough that Jr. had to field questions about not being in the Chase immediately after the race – one reporter asked him if he was feeling any pressure to win one of the remaining 10 races so he could keep his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one win intact.
What I know: It’s not like Jimmie Johnson needed any more momentum heading into the Chase. His win Saturday night and his experience of winning the title last season should have him counting the days until the green flag waves starting the playoff portion of the schedule. The bonus points he received from his series-leading six wins will just add to his momentum, making him the driver to beat.
What I know: Jack Roush has found a way around NASCAR’s rule that will eventually limit the number of teams one owner can own to four. Jack now owns five, but the recent announcement that his Roush Fenway operation will have a closer working relationship with Yates Racing beginning in 2008 has raised a few questions. Roush released driver Travis Kvapil to drive for Yates next season and talk in the garage has Roush’s extra team being bought by Yates before the sanctioning body’s deadline. That would put Roush in a position to have up to seven cars under somewhat his own control.
What I know: If I were a Cup driver, I would want to crawl behind the wheel of a Chevy on race day. Johnson’s win at Richmond clinched the manufacturer’s title for the bow-tie brigade for the fourth consecutive year and the 31st title since 1952. Nine Chevy drivers have combined to win 19 of the 26 races this season with all but one of those moving into the Chase. Casey Mears is the lone winning Chevy driver not to move on to the Chase round, but Chevy driver Clint Bowyer will move into the Chase as the only driver not to have at least one win.
What I know: Joe Gibbs Racing will be competitive next season with Toyota. Maybe it was a dump truck of money or the opportunity to be the flagship for a manufacturer, either way Gibbs will show the rest of the series just how good an organization it is next season with the Camry. Gibbs would have always had to take a back seat to Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. as long as he was in the Chevy camp. This way, he stands to be at the front of the line when it comes to factory backing and technical help. Chances are we may find out next season that there wasn’t that much wrong with the Camry, all it needed was the right team with the right people to get it in qualifying and race trim.
What I know: It’s a 10-race sprint to the finish from here on out with the most competitive field to ever make up the Chase. Before those final laps go off the board, we may find out how important those early season wins were. A field this tight puts a premium on every point and looking back, those drivers racing for the wins early in the season may have had their eye on the big picture.
Race Preview – Event: Sylvania 300. Track: New Hampshire International Speedway (1-mile oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Sept. 16, 1 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kevin Harvick.