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Woody: Kahne Smokes No-Chase, No-Race Theory

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 16 2011

Lame-duck driver Kasey Kahne is showing that drivers are driven. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

When NASCAR inaugurated its Chase for the Championship – its version of a playoff between a select number of drivers – critics complained that any driver who didn’t make the Chase wouldn’t have any

incentive to keep racing.

They said the non-Chasers would simply ride out the final 10 races.

They said if their favorite driver wasn’t in the Chase they’d have no reason to watch.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

We’ve seen time after time that just because a driver isn’t racing for a championship doesn’t mean he quits racing.

Kasey Kahne was the latest to disprove the no-Chase, no-race theory by blazing to victory Sunday at Phoenix.

In fact, Kahne sent multiple messages through his impressive performance. Not only did he prove that a driver who’s not in the Chase will race, he also showed that a driver who’s on his way out with his former team still has lots of drive.

It was no secret that Kasey was simply being kept on ice at Red Bull Racing this season while waiting to take over Mark Martin’s ride at Hendrick Motorsports next year. Add to that the fact that Red Bull

Kasey Kahne has been smoking hot during the final weeks of the season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Racing apparently won’t be back next season and that makes Kahne the lamest of lame ducks: a departing driver from a dying team.

But there was no quit in Kasey, nor in any other members of the team that prepared and serviced his car and helped send him to victory Sunday.

A similar message was sent earlier by Clint Bowyer who won a Chase race even though he’s not a championship contender. His message at Talladega was, like Kahne’s at Phoenix, especially strong because it had been announced that Clint wouldn’t be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

Bowyer, a championship contender the year before, could have sulked over what some felt was a raw deal. Instead, he buckled down, went out and won. What better farewell message – or parting shot – could he have given his old outfit?

I never believed for a second that drivers who didn’t make the Chase would roll over and play dead for the final 10 races. I’ve been around NASCAR drivers for 40 years and that’s simply not their nature.

If anything, the non-Chasers have MORE incentive than the drivers who make the Chase. Just like in the NFL, making the playoffs in the No. 1 goal of every driver at the start of the season. If they make it, they’ve had a good year. If they don’t make it they’ve had a rotten year.

The drivers who make the Chase are assured of a decent season – they were a title contender and assured of no worse than a final Top 12 finish.

But the non-Chase drivers don’t have that comfort to fall back on during a long, cold winter. Their only solace, their only way to salvage something from a disappointing season, is to go out and win a race.

The Chasers are after a championship. The non-Chasers are after respectability, pride, next-season momentum, and in some cases a much-needed resume-booster.

As Kahne and Bowyer have proved in recent weeks, real racers don’t quit.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 16 2011
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