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Woody: Non-Chasers Are Still Racers

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 21 2010

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to race for victories for his fans, his team and his sponsors. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

During one of last season’s Chase for the Championship races a commentator complained that some of the “other” drivers were racing the Chasers too hard.

They weren’t moving over, getting out of way and conceding the track to the 12 Chase drivers who were contending for the championship. The commentator hoped that one of them didn’t “mess up” the championship battle.

It was one of the goofiest things I’ve ever heard, even by commentator standards.

Part of the charm of the Chase is the fact that even if a driver doesn’t make the Top 12 to become title-eligible, he still gets to run the final 10 races. He doesn’t simply take his ball and go home.

In fact I’ve always felt that the non-Chasers may have more raw incentive and motivation than the dozen title contenders. The latter are assured of no worse than a final top 12 finish. By simply making their Chase they’ve had a decent season. They can exhale.

For the non-Chasers, however, the only way to salvage something from a disappointing season is to go out and win one or more of the final races.

There’s pride – and possibly jobs – on the line.

We saw that gritty determination in last Sunday’s Chase opener at New Hampshire when five of the top-ten finishers were non-Chasers: Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Reutimann, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr.

To suggest that any of those drivers should have slowed down or moved over to let the Chaser racers go by is preposterous.

Not only do the non-title gang have just as much right to race as do the Chasers, to concede the track to them would defy the spirit of racing and belittle the championship. In racing, nobody gets to play through.

The 12 Chase drivers have to race the entire field, and as we saw Sunday, several of those “field cars” can be formidable opponents.

Even the slower cars play a role. Negotiating lapped traffic is part of racing. Otherwise NASCAR would run the final 10 races with a 12-car lineup.

That would be silly, of course – almost as silly as suggesting that anyone not in the Chase should turn on their blinker, ease down on the apron, and wave the title-hunters around.

Last Sunday Earnhardt got almost as much air time by finishing 4th as dark-horse Clint Bowyer did for winning the race. There’s no denying that if Earnhardt can get it in gear down the stretch and compete for wins, it will create a tremendous fan and media buzz.

Junior can’t win the championship but he can still win the race, and that’s enough to get the Earnhardt Nation all a-twitter.

There are intriguing story lines involving the Chasers – each of the 12 is a saga unto itself — but there is also plenty of drama surrounding the drivers who didn’t make it. They’re not racing for points, positions or championships. They’re racing for the most basic goal of all: to win the race.

If anyone thinks they’re going to move over and get out of the way, methinks they’ve got another think coming.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 21 2010
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  • Deanna Janney says:

    Thanks for this article. This is why I watch racing and not stick and ball sports – all the teams get to play every week. The Chase is a dumb idea but it’s here and because I love this sport I deal with it. If the Chase drivers need non-Chase drivers to pull over so they can race do they really belong in the Chase in the first place? Probably not.