Pedley: Time For One More Teeny Tweak
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
If it’s not a unanimous opinion that the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship is a wonderful thing, then it is at least a very strong consensus. It is doing everything it is supposed to do as it adds excitement to a sport that tends to get lost when football season begins and baseball turns from tedious to serious.
And Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, the 2009 Chase, the sixth Chase, got off to a perfect start.
Well, nearly perfect.
When the 12 drivers who had earned their berths lined up for the festive, smile-o-rama, boys-night-out of a group photo, the best driver in NASCAR was missing. And that of course, points up a fairly significant lugee in the churn.
The 2009 Chase will start next Sunday in New Hampshire with Kyle Busch competing merely for a race victory and yes, that is a problem.
A victory at Loudon would be his fifth of the season. It would make him Sprint Cup’s top winner on the season. It would be embarrassing.
Hopefully, it would set a small fire in the office of those who are empowered to make just one more tweak to the Chase format.
NASCAR officials should explore the option of “Win And You’re In”. Get a victory in the first 26 races of the season, get a shot at the Cup.
The downsides, of course, are that such a system would allow fluke race winners – like Joey Logano this year – in; that it could turn the Chase into a mob scene because as many as 26 teams could make the cut; that it is antithetical to the system of rewarding consistency in NASCAR.
The opinion here is that there is one answer to all of those arguments: Inclusion is better than exclusion.
OK, two answers: Winning races is what motor sports is, has always been and, hopefully, will always be about.
Drivers, crew chiefs, owners and the guys in the booth all love to talk about how hard it is to win a Sprint Cup race these days. How competitive the series is, how the garages are populated with the best drivers in the world.
Those people are mostly correct. And so, it only stands to reason that a driver and team who win a race in Cup are good enough to be in the Chase.
Will this year’s championship be cheapened if a driver like Carl Edwards or Juan Pablo Montoya win it without winning a race? Should a driver who has not won a race yet but takes home the big silver trophy which looks nothing at all like a Cup, feel guilty as he addresses the banquet this winter?
Nah and nah. Not even if Busch picks up, say, five more victories, which he is good enought to do.
The winner of the 2009 Cup will have played by the rules and been crowned by the rules.
As those rules now stand, that is.
And what of Kyle Busch?
He scored a personal victory at Richmond for the way he handled himself at a very tough moment. The guy who has showed people how not to win the last couple of years, showed them how to lose on Saturday night.
He spent a lot of time apologizing, a lot of time thanking, zero time scapegoating.
He used the word “we” more than he used the word “I” or “them”.
“It’s a conglomerate of points that we sacrificed all year,” Busch said after driving to a terrific fifth-place finish only to miss the Chase by eight points. “It’s unfortunate for the whole M&M’s organization; Victoria Mars was here tonight hoping that we could make it into the Chase. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to. We didn’t have the best of years to be consistent and unfortunately that bit us.
“We can always look toward the rest of the year to try to win some races and go out with a bang and try to build on something for next year. I’ve been struggling a little bit this year with these cars for some reason. Last year I took to them real quick. Thank Interstate Batteries, Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. (Gibbs) and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. It wasn’t tonight – it was a good, strong top-five finish
“That was a hard battle all night. My arms are sore, my back is sore, but it was fun to be able to race all these guys. (Brian) Vickers put up a whale of a fight there at the end you know. I just want to thank M&M’s, Combos, Snickers – we missed it.”
And the Chase – the almost perfect Chase – will miss Busch.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments