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Pedley: I’m Pretty Sure This Chase Is A Good One

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 14 2011

Tony Stewart started the Chase by winning the first two events. Three races later, he's in trouble. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

This weekend, as the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship reaches its half way point, 47 points separate the first-place driver from the second-place driver.

What I can’t seem to figure out is: Is the lead just 47 points or is it a whopping 47 points. That’s right, still can’t get a firm grasp on the revamped point system NASCAR introduced this season.

But whether it be in spite of the new system, or because of it, the 2011 Chase is proving to be quite entertaining.

This weekend’s racing is at Charlotte Motor Speedway, home track to virtually all the teams and drivers in Cup. It’s the fifth of the 10 Chase races.

Carl Edwards is the points leader, but by just/a whopping three points over Kevin Harvick. Just/a whopping one point behind Harvick is five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

That 10th-place driver is Jeff Gordon. I’m told he’s cooked but not because he is 47 points behind Edwards, but because he must jump eight other drivers to get to the leader.

Tony Stewart won the first two races of the Chase – that is, he has won half of the Chase races to this

Jeff Gordon appears to be toast. (RacinToday/HHP by Brian Lawdermilk)

point – but is seventh in points and/but 19 points behind Edwards. I’m told he must win another Chase race if he is to catch Edwards.

Kurt Busch, who won the Chase race at Dover, is sixth in points. Nobody has told me if he is in good or bad shape when it comes to winning his second Cup championship. I’m going with, um, decent shape.

But I’m not sure.

What I am pretty certain about this year’s Chase is that more so than ever, it is more about being eliminated by mistakes than about rising up by way of winning races.

I like what Brad Keselowski said at Charlotte on Thursday.

“The interesting thing about the Chase is that you’re not rewarded so much for good days as you are punished for bad day,” Keselowski said. “It’s very strange like that. There’s no, like, playmaker moments like you see in college football, you know (where) a guys has an 80-yard break through the center of the line for a running touchdown. You don’t have that in our deal, so you find yourself the whole time ‘Don’t screw this up. I hope I have a fast car.’ That’s like the spirit of the Chase for us, so it’s very much a don’t screw up mentality throughout the garage for everybody, but especially the Chase drivers and then just have a fast car and do everything right.”

Keselowski is fourth in points – 11 points back, which may or may not be good.

He finished fifth at the Chase opener in Joliet, second at New Hampshire in Chase race No. 2 and then third at Kansas in the fourth race. Wonderful finishes under any scoring system.

But it was his 20th-place finish at Dover that he talked most about on Thursday.

“Yeah, because I know without Dover, quite honestly, we’d be the point’s leader right now,” Keselowski said. “We were a fifth to 10th-place car at Dover. We’re 11 points behind and we finished 20th at Dover.

Brad Keselowski says the Chase is an elimination process. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

It’s just simple math, you know. And I feel like this team deserves to be in the points lead right now. I think if you look at the last 10 races, and I know some of those races were before the Chase started, but we’ve scored way more points than anyone else. I feel like we’re there. We’re ready to be the point’s leader. There’s a long ways to go in the Chase, but I want to get there and I feel like we can.”

He’s right. I think.

After leaving Charlotte, the Chase will likely get even better/more confusing. The usual late-Chase line-up of X-Factor races at Talladega and Martinsville will be augmented by a third X-Factor race at Phoenix as that track has a brand new surface and altered configuration.

Stewart could win another race, two even, and finish a scant/whopping 38 points behind the eventual champion.

I’m not sure that’s good, but I am finding it fun. That’s right, I’m being amused by both by what I consider very good racing and my own inability to grasp a point system which has been in application for almost nine months.

Doping out the scoring system is all a matter of familiarity, of course. I’d followed open-wheel and sports car racing long before I took an interest in NASCAR. When I did get bit by the NASCAR bug, the scoring system proved baffling, illogical, unfair.

But over the years, the baffling part, at least, changed. So, a couple seasons from now, I fully expect to know whether or not 47 points is whopping or scant.

I think.

I just hope the racing remains as entertaining.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 14 2011
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