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Woody: Bottom-Feeders Need To Chow Down

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 9 2009
The 2009 Chase is endanger of becoming the Jimmie and Mark Show. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 2009 Chase is endanger of becoming the Jimmie and Mark Show. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer

Going into this 6th edition of the Chase for the Championship I thought this 12-car field was the strongest in history, top to bottom.

I thought we’d see tight, tense battles and exciting position-shuffling week after week.

I thought the stage was set for one of the most wide-open, dramatic title fights in NASCAR history.

Looks like I thought wrong.

We’re three races into the 10-race Chase and I’m still waiting for the fireworks.

If some of the bottom-feeders don’t make a major move at California Sunday, the Chase could be a three- or four-car contest before the halfway point.

Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson are 1-2 in the standing and turning in near-flawless performances. Unless both stumble badly – not likely — they’re going to be long gone and out of sight.

Juan Pablo Montoya in third and Tony Stewart in fourth, are aggressive drivers with good team support. Stewart has a burst of momentum with his win at Kansas and he and Montoya are still very much in it. But after that …?

With the possible exception of 7th-place Jeff Gordon I don’t see much of a challenge coming from the rest of the pack. Gordon is just 103 points out of the lead, but it’s not the points but the positions he has to overcome. Gordon has to run well while hoping that all six drivers ahead of him flop in the next seven races. That’s not likely to happen. Martin and Johnson aren’t floppers.

It’s been stunning to see how totally non-competitive half the Chasers have been. It’s almost as though they are happy and content just to have made the playoffs, and once in they lifted.

That’s not the case, of course – I know that drivers like Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers are driving their hearts out. But they aren’t going anywhere. It seems they saved their worst for last.

When the playoffs start its time to step it up, and so far over half the Chasers haven’t been able to do it. That’s why, just three races in, they’re on the brink of elimination.

At the start of the Chase a TV pundit predicted there would be “seven, eight, maybe more” of the Chaser racers go into the season finale at Homestead with a shot at the championship. I agreed.

Now it appears NASCAR will be lucky if there are three or four legitimate contenders.

Likewise, I thought that drivers who failed to make the Chase would feel the heat. I figured missing the playoffs would light a fire under them. But again, we haven’t seen it. The non-Chasers seem to be just showing up and punching a time clock, anxious to get the season over with.

Their passiveness is puzzling. You’d think they would be oozing motivation, trying to end a dismal season on a high note.

It’s not over yet; there are still seven races left in which the non-Chasers can save face and the back-of-the-pack Chase racers can get it in gear and make a move.

But the clock is ticking, and for a lot of teams it seems somebody forgot to set the alarm.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 9 2009