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Woody: Chase Racers Strain Pacemakers

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 19 2010

Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, who met with the media on Friday, are doing their part. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

If this season’s Chase for the Championship hasn’t got you excited, you might want to check your pulse.

You might be clinically dead.

I don’t see how anyone who doesn’t have a tag on their toe won’t be perched on the edge of their La-Z-Boy Sunday afternoon when they roll off the line at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR wanted a playoff and it got a Super Bowl. It’s late in the fourth quarter and the clock is ticking.

The scoreboard shows Denny Hamlin clinging to a slim lead but if he fumbles – as he did late in last Sunday’s Phoenix race – Jimmie Johnson is poised to pounce. Johnson chomped Hamlin’s points lead in half and now is just 15 back. Hamlin can’t afford to hiccup.

And don’t count out Kevin (No Holds-Barred) Harvick, lurking in third, 45 behind Hamlin and still in the hunt. Harvick will be a heat-seeking missile Sunday.

It’s all on the line and no reason to hold back. There’ll be plenty of time for the Boys Back at the Shop to knock out the dents during the off-season.

How more dramatic could a season finale could be?

Chase critics won’t ever be satisfied, of course. They complain that the Chase is too “contrived.” Of course it’s contrived. Every sport’s playoff system is contrived. Otherwise they’d just tally the number of wins, declare a champion, and call it a season.

I think NASCAR has got it about as refined as possible, giving every driver equal opportunity over 26 races to punch their Chase ticket.

I believe 12 is a good number for the playoffs. If a driver wasn’t able to work himself into the top 12 during the first 26 races he has no basis for complaint. If he wants to see what kept him out of the championship battle he can look in a mirror.

A 10-race showdown is fair. Someone suggested cutting the number of Chase races in half to ratchet up the pressure but I don’t think that would be fair. I like leaving the door cracked as long as possible for a late-charger, or to allow a good driver to overcome a bad early race.

Change the points system for the Chase? Why? It’s equitable the way it is. It rewards drivers for consistency and for victories during the “regular season.” Yet the bonus points aren’t enough to give anyone an overpowering edge.

The Chase-haters’ other gripe – that non-Chases have nothing to race for in the last 10 events – has been blown out of the water. As Jamie McMurray proved, not being in championship contention doesn’t mean anyone is going to develop Light Foot Syndrome.

Ditto Chase drivers who are out of contention; they aren’t going to lift. Witness last Sunday’s hard charge by Carl Edwards to a long-overdue victory, or the spirited runs by Clint Bowyer despite the crushing opening-race penalty that doomed his title hopes. They won’t be hoisting the big trophy Sunday, but they’re not just along for the ride.

And the three going for the title? They’d better buckle in tight, because it’s going to be a doozie. Double-check the batteries on the old Pacemaker – and as a backup, keep the jumper cables handy.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 19 2010
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