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Pedley: McMurray Aces Test

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 20 2010

Jamie McMurray has multiple wins this year, but no championship hopes. (Photo by Gregg Ellman - Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Let’s see what’s in the old Morning Memo today:

Jamie McMurray’s victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night will go down in the history books as his third of the 2010 season. But it might also be accurately viewed as his first victory of the 2011 season.

Ditto for other non-Chase drivers who happened to win during the final races this season.

While the Chase drivers have spent the last five races trying to collect points and win playoff races – in that order – many non-Chaser teams are using the final 10 weeks of the year as a test session.

With no chance of winning this year’s championship, they are already thinking about next year’s and taking steps to get there.

Following McMurray’s victory in Concord, his crew chief, Kevin Manion, talked about that.

He said, basically, that the car which won Saturday was loaded with 2011 thinking.

“We definitely have been experimenting outside of our baseline setup the last couple of weeks, last week in California, this week,” Manion said. “Something we are working on.  Just haven’t perfected it. It did show great promise the other day. So it (not being in the Chase) does definitely give you a little bit more freedom to experiment, make more riskier calls, fuel mileage and so on, so forth.”

Manion said that it is not just setups and engine tuning that are getting worked upon back at the Earnhardt Ganassi shops during the Chase. Less tangible things are also getting a thorough going-over.

“It also gives us time at the shop to actually take a breath and say, OK, we didn’t make this Chase,” Manion said. “Now, what do we have to do for the next 10 races to still race good, but have a little bit of fun, because as you all know, it’s a very trying and stressful job, including yourselves, coming in here every week and different venues.

“Just a breath of fresh air in lining things up for 2011, maybe 10 weeks sooner than the guys concentrating on making a name for themselves at the end of the year.”

Memo to self: Keep working on next year’s Pulitzer.

I like the Chase. I think it’s radical fun without destroying the essence of the sport and I think it is needed to generate interest at a time of the year when other other sports are tearing away at fans’ attention like piranhas on skantily-clad teen-agers in summer movies.

And I say let it settle in before any more tweaking or tinkering or mystifying is performed.

However, there is this thing about glaring omissions to Chase lineups. Call it The McMurray Paradox.

I mean here is a guy who won the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500. He also won the second-biggest race of the year, the Brickyard 400. Now he adds a third victory and with five races left to go, could add another one or two or three…

The guy and his team have proven they are not flukes. This is not a case of a Tony Raines or Dave Blaney winning a fuel-mileage race for his only top-10 of the season.

McMurray and his Earnhardt Gannasi team now have the three wins and nine top-five finishes this season – that is, they have as many or more victories than all but two Chasers and have as many or more top-fives as all but four. The problem for the No. 1 EGR team is their four DNFs, which is matched or exceeded by just one driver in the Chase.

So, it appears the Chase does not so much reward success as it penalizes misfortune. Often, misfortune caused by the actions of others (others as in back-marking squirrels who are quite willing to risk their, and others’, equipment in the hopes that finishing one place better will land them a ride with Hendrick).

McMurray’s 2010 season is the exception, of course. But it is a troubling exception. It points out a flaw which could very easily, some year, crown a champion who has zero wins and leave out of contention a driver who has 10 victories.

Some championship that would be, eh?

The solution? My RacinToday colleague Rick Minter likes giving race winners 500 bonus points. I like that. It would assure that race winners – particularly winners of multimple races – would be in the Chase.

What I don’t like about that is the insertion of more mathematics into the process. Fans should not have to get out their calculators as they ponder championship possibilities. So, I prefer an exemption system. Win two races, you’re in. Win the 500, you’re in. Win the Brickyard or the Bristol night race or the Southern 500, you’re in.

Things like this should be considered – way down the road.

For the time being, let the Chase be. Give it time to develop an identity. Give it time to win fans over. Give it time to draw all of it’s flaws into daylight.

Memo to self: Hmm, is that just procrastination? I will think about that tomorrow.

NASCAR’s recent decision to switch over to an ethanol blend of fuel next year demonstrates two things – The series is at least showing a bit of social consciousness; and, series officials’ timing may be way off.

In announcing the plan to go with 15-percent ethanol blend, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said, “Sunoco Green E15 is good for racing, good for the environment and good for America. While fueling the same close, door-to-door racing that thrills our fans, American ethanol creates jobs in the United States, helps foster energy independence and continues the greening of our sport.”

Or not.

Especially if the ethanol is corn-based.

The ethanol-as-savior train has left the station and is headed toward a rusty, crumbling bridge. Once thought to be a great idea with no downside, using corn to fuel automobiles has come under considerable attack in recent years.

According to an article published this month on the commondreams.org website and copyrighted by the Boston Globe, “US factories producing ethanol fuel for cars may consume as much as half of the country’s corn crop next year – more than double earlier government predictions – creating competition for grain stocks that could drive up supermarket prices for cereals, meat, eggs, and dairy products, according to a report released yesterday.”

A piece run recently in the Christian Science Monitor, which quoted other media sources, such as the Associated Press and the BBC, points out that ethanol requires expending large amounts of other energy to produce; that increased production will erode soil and contribute to eutrophication of lakes and rivers because of fertilizers used to grow corn; that land used to grow other crops is being converted to corn growing which will increases prices for those other crops.

The CSM article said that the rush to ethanol has already caused significant increases in food costs.

Critics will say that the move to ethanol by NASCAR is little more than a PR stunt and something that will only benefit Sunoco.

I prefer to think of it as good intentions not thoroughly explored.

Probably, it is a bit of both.

Memo to self: Cars with giant windmills on the roofs?

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 20 2010
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