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The First NASCAR Playoff Card Has Been Dealt

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 3 2012

Brad Keselowski's crew goes to work in the Kentucky pits. His boys helped him nail a playoff spot. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

A final look back at a big weekend of racing:

– The stretch drive in the Chase for the Chase began Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway and it produced what I think most would agree is a slam dunk entrant to the playoffs. The first slam dunk entrant.

Brad Keselowski’s victory at Kentucky was his third of the year. Because of that, the Penske Racing driver is all but assured of at least a Wild Card berth in the Chase.

On the less tangible side, it hinted that the driver who most channels golden-era drivers like Earnhardt Sr. and Pearson and Foyt is ready to go on a serious tear.

The opinion here is that Keselowski will win one more time before the Chase begins. And, he won’t need a Wild Card berth as he will be sitting comfortably in the top 10 when the series arrives in Chicago.

But other championship hopefuls will not be experiencing that kind of comfort. Which is great.

It is from now until the start of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16 that the Wild Card provision will start doing in earnest what it was designed to do; create a sense of desperation among all teams and drivers who have even the slightest of hitches in their games.

For teams and drivers who are not in the green zone vis a vis the Chase, they are now more desperate to get a victory or two to assure themselves of being in Wild Card contention. For those who have a win or two, or, who are in the upper reaches of points, their sense of desperation is aimed at starting the Chase with a stash of bonus points.

Yep, things get cool when the summer heats up. Thumbs up to the Wild Car format.

– Speaking of Penske Racing; Kurt Busch is having a much more impressive season that the driver who replaced him.

Busch has made Phoenix Racing a story this year. And, mostly, for the right reasons. He’s hooked up with a low-budget, one-car operation which has about the same number of crew members as the after-midnight shift at McDonald’s and has threatened to win races with it. Busch has impressed.

He finished 19th at Kentucky, but once again, on the lead lap and looking quite scrappy.

His replacement at Penske, A.J. Allmendinger has gone missing. Allmendinger sits 23rd in points. He has just three top-10 finishes.

While Busch sits one spot and 44 points behind Allmendinger, Busch also has driven in one less race – that being Pocono because he was suspended for bullying a sports writer.

I took an email from an anti-Busch fan in the off season. The author was pretty certain that with Allmendinger on board, and Busch rendered invisible, Penske would have a one-two punch and would enter the ranks of elite teams.

Allmendinger did head out of Kentucky with his second straight ninth-place finish but before that, he had not had a top 12 since Martinsville in Race No. 6.

He will not make the Chase and heads into the off season with a ton of pressure on his shoulders to become a story next year.

– The NHRA and ESPN may have stumbled onto a highly acceptable compromise at Route 66 Dragway on Sunday. A compromise to the problem of televising unwieldy NHRA national events.

The Joliet race was beset by weather problems. Rain forced the delay of final round eliminations into the late afternoon. ESPN, which generally shows all eliminations on a pre-recorded, compacted basis, showed the final live.

It was terrific.

The problem with televising NHRA events has always been the long days. For qualifying and then on Sunday for eliminations. And, the long down times between rounds as the pro teams rebuild the engines.

Showing them late in the day on Sunday – sometimes late at night on Sunday – in a compacted format, just never it cut for fans of the sport. In these digital times, everybody who is interested in the outcomes knows what’s happening/happened via the Internet and social media.

Even when you don’t know the outcomes, watching taped sporting events is like eating a microwaved rib-eye.

But, getting the finals live Sunday at least moved the steak to a broiler oven, if not all the way to the backyard grill.

– Big atta-way-to-go to SPEED for showing all six hours of the GRAND-AM Rolex race at Watkins Glen.

Some us continue to think that sports car racing has a bright future. It’s an interesting hybrid, so to speak, of racing as a spectator event and racing as participatory in that real stock-ish cars are on the track at the same time as the big dogs.

That is, you got the Prototypes – as non-exotic as they are in GRAND-AM these days – and also street-variety sports cars like Porsches and Mazdas and Camaros. You know, vehicles that are somewhat attainable. Certainly cars that inspire rooting interests among people loyal to those brands and who have, hope to have or had owned one.

The thought here is it was that identifiability factor – now all but gone – which nourished NASCAR into its current profile.

– Finally, a final word on Kentucky. It appears that the pre- and post-race traffic problems have been solved.

Or, have they?

Because of uncomfortably hot weather, and, perhaps, a lousy experience the year before, the Quaker State 400 was not a sellout – or, at least, all seats did not get used Sunday.

So, it may take another year before Bruton Smith and his people know if the millions were well spent.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 3 2012
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  • Ed Smith says:

    You hit the nail right on the head as far as televising NHRA events, Jim. Live telecast of the final Pro rounds. Are you listening, ESPN and NHRA?