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Woody: The Great Chase Seems To Be Fading Fast

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 19 2009
Members of Jimmie Johnson's pit crew celebrate win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Celebrations for other teams are on the wane.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Members of Jimmie Johnson's pit crew celebrate win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Celebrations for other teams are on the wane. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Going into this 6th edition of NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, I thought the 12-pack of drivers represented the strongest field ever.

I thought the stage was set for the most wham-bam title fight in NASCAR history.

I thought we’d see goose-bump battles and constant shuffling of the standings.

Looks like I thought wrong.

We’re five races into the Chase – halfway – and I’m still waiting for the fireworks.

If some of the lethargic laggers don’t make a major move soon, like say, Sunday at Martinsville, the Chase’s stretch run will become an intramural contest between three Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

Jimmie Johnson has won two in a row and is pulling away as he purses a record fourth consecutive championship. Title-starved Mark Martin clings to second and Jeff Gordon rides in third.

With the possible exception of fourth-place Tony Stewart I don’t see much of a challenge coming from the rest of the pack.

So much for the Amazing Chase. The only thing amazing so far is how non-competitive it has been. It’s almost as though the majority of the drivers were content just to have made it, and once in they lifted.

When the playoffs start it’s a whole new season and time to step it up. So far most of the Chasers haven’t been able to do it. That’s why they’re on the brink of elimination at the halfway point.

At the start of the Chase a TV pundit predicted that “seven, eight, maybe more” of the 12 Chase racers would go into the season finale at Homestead with a shot at the championship. I agreed. But now NASCAR will be lucky if there are three serious contenders heading into Homestead.

Likewise I thought that the drivers who failed to make the Chase would turn up the wick. 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 – as Dale Earnhardt Jr. confessed last week — to get the season over with.

Their passiveness is puzzling. You’d think they would be oozing motivation and quivering with incentive, eager to salvage something from a dismal season.

It’s not over yet; there’s still time for the stragglers to get it in gear and show some grit and gittyup.

But the clock is ticking, and a lot of teams seem to have forgotten to set the alarm.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 19 2009
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Ken says:

    The top four chasers are all Hendrick cars (Tony’s is except in name). The Hendrick/Chevrolet/NA$CAR teamwork is working well. JJ works to stay in the top 12 and never shows what he has so he can pretend to be like the rest of the teams. NA$CAR “checks” JJ and MM’s cars every week and they always pass. DUH! Let me grade my own paper or the paper of my secret partner and I guarantee it will pass.

  • Brian says:

    I am a huge 11 fan and it just goes to show who is the better team. Look at how JJ teams hangs in there until the chase then they put it into high gear and blows away everyone. His team just doesn’t make mistakes…blown engines, cut tires, blocking to early in the race, getting caught up into someone else restart mess. Great teams are suppose to be great during tough times and look at the 48, change spark plugs go a lap down and still come up with a good finish. JJ deserves to win the other teams just need to step up their game during the chase. You’ve got to want to win it and be focused…JJ is focused and the team is ready.
    My only thought to change the chase would be switch up the last 10 races every year…put Darlington, Richmond, Texas in the chase maybe JJ’s team doesn’t have a 3.2 avg finish at.
    I as much as I love Hamlin – witnessing history in the making isn’t to bad.

  • lydia says:

    Well..hopefully this will make NASCAR take a good hard look at their “state of the art” this will “fix all” “new and exciting” Chase format. I have nothing against JJ…just against the Chase. So we all get it…JJ/CK have the Chase figured out..but does this put him in the record books…I guess so…as the best driver to lead the pack in “10 races”. I think that is more the issue when it comes to feelings about JJ…the new and improved “Chase”. You can call me “old school” dinosaur” or whatever…but I would like to see JJ/CK win their next championship based on 36 and not 10 races. If he could do that…my feelings..and my viewership might ramp up a notch or two.

  • Bill B says:

    “Their passiveness is puzzling. You’d think they would be oozing motivation and quivering with incentive, eager to salvage something from a dismal season.”

    Another unintended consequence of the chase….If you don’t make it you don’t matter. The last couple of years I have noticed the trend that the non-chasers are non-factors in the last ten races.

  • SB says:

    I assume most of the drivers not in the chase are trying to use these races as informal tests for next year. they get no TV time or acknowlegment for their sponsors, and are basically told to stay out of the way of the top 12. They aren’t encouraged to race. They are completely locked out of racing their way into the top 10, so why tear up equipment trying? And please remember that the ‘top 12′ were only so close in points because Nascar rigged the deal, not because they were really that close to the points leader (who was Tony Stewart, no JJ). I’d guess that many of the drivers are as indifferent to the deal as many fans seem to be, judging from attendance and TV ratings. And it doesn’t cost anything to watch on television, so you can’t blame the economy for that one.