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Coming clean about the Chase

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports
Coming clean about the Chase
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't finished higher than 12th in the standings since 2006

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As one loyal reader put it, and then there were three …

Let's get to the mailbag:

Dear Mr. Hart, I am sorry to say that I didn't read your column. Without reading it I already knew what you were going to say about the Chase.

You seem like a nice guy and you have a job to do but trying to pump hype into this so-called championship is a waste of your writing talent.

I was one of those guys who used to watch a race from flag to flag every Sunday. I also attended the races at Watkins Glen which I lie very close to. The economy had nothing to do with my not going to races. The people who run NASCAR are why I don't follow this sport any longer.

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There has just been too many changes and rules that have taken away the credibility of NASCAR.

I am sure you have read a lot of the criticism of NASCAR and unfortunately they are not listening.

Dan Turner
Geneva, N.Y.

I think it's important that readers/consumers understand the perspective of the media, and one reason why we might not be more critical of the Chase format.

Our job is to produce stories on a daily basis. Producing them isn't necessarily hard. However, producing interesting ones is.

From our perspective, the Chase creates weekly storylines that wouldn't necessarily be there if the championship were a blowout at this point in the season. In other words, it makes our job easier, possibly more enjoyable and, most importantly, keeps your attention when you otherwise would have moved on to something else. Reading between the lines, yes, I'm talking advertising dollars here. Don't hate, we all gotta eat.

Now, don't get me wrong – dollar bills are not the reason I'm a proponent of the Chase. I bring that point up for the sake of full disclosure. Putting the business of it aside, I like the Chase for its entertainment value, though it's certainly been lacking in that category the last few years.

Now, has the Chase delivered on all of its promises? No. The storylines are easier to find, but there's no secret that the numbers slump as the Chase rolls on. Just take a look at the TV ratings.

Clearly there is a disconnect between what we in the media like and what you as a consumer want.

The point of my column – and why didn't you read it!?!? – was to pose the question if a close title hunt would change people's minds on the Chase. The guess here is that a lot of you won't admit it, but if it is tight, you'll be tuning in when you otherwise wouldn't.


No question, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick did what they had to do to NOT end the day out of contention for the Sprint Cup championship. While they can't control what Jimmie Johnson does, at this point they both should realize that the No. 48 MUST finish behind them in EVERY race from here out in order for their own finishes to be relevant.

The question of WHERE Jimmie finishes behind them is out of their hands, and falls to both Jimmie and the other 40 drivers who start the race to answer.

While Kyle Busch's finish was of little actual value to his own Cup hopes, he became the "spacer" that allowed Harvick to pick up 15 points on Johnson, rather than the 10 he would've gained had Jimmie finished fourth instead of fifth. So was Kyle doing some "big-picture" racing today? I doubt it, because I don't credit him with that level of maturity. But since Kyle DID manage to wedge himself between the 48 and the other true Chase contenders, I believe both Harvick and Hamlin should at least buy Kyle's lunch this week. And Hamlin should do the same for second-place finisher Mark Martin.

Mark D. Knight
Salisbury, Ind.

No doubt Kevin Harvick has to finish ahead of both Johnson and Hamlin this weekend at Talladega. Gaining points on them the following three weeks will be a difficult proposition, so it's now or never for Harvick.

Hamlin, however, doesn't have to beat Johnson every week. No, he can't afford to be too far behind him, but remember, Hamlin is very good at Homestead-Miami, while Johnson, well, we're not really sure how good he can be there.

And while we're on the subject of "spacers" taking away five points here, five points there, don't forget about bonus points. They are the only reason why Johnson is in the lead right now.


This and that …

Jay, I have read your columns for a long time and watched your Yahoo! videos and I respect your knowledge of the sport. Can you just cut to the chase and tell us what's wrong with Jr.?

It can't continue to be equipment. Do you feel he has lost his driving edge? I watched Sr. race for years and hoped that Jr. would follow, but I think that will never happen. What's wrong?

Stan

To be fair, Hendrick Motorsports isn't exactly lighting the world on fire this season, so equipment does play an issue. However, it doesn't play so much of an issue that you can't finish inside the top 10 on a semi-regular basis.

Playing amateur psychologist, I do think something has gotten into Junior's head. From personal experience, there are times in life when it's hard to give your best, and it wears on you if those times keep coming up.

I don't know what it's going to take for Junior to return to 2004 status. The easy answer is wins, but that's like the old argument, how do you make money without money?


I guess by now drivers should know that if your under 20 laps to go and you've got more than a three second lead – your gonna get the caution. Solution – keep your lead to no more than two seconds.

I know it sucks and its not really racing but these are the parameters that drivers must operate in this "Chase Age."

Andrew
Indianapolis

Jay Busbee brought up the point that NASCAR is so hyper-aware of the alleged phantom debris caution that it purposefully didn't throw a caution in the closing laps of the Martinsville race despite several cars slowing on the track. Maybe he has a point.


I read that RPM is on the verge of bankruptcy and that they may be out of business before the start of next year's racing season. Is this the tip of the iceberg, where other teams are either folding or cutting back, or is this simply a poorly capitalized team that was in over its head?

Personally, when Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are finding it difficult to find sponsorship money, what hope is there for the smaller/less successful teams?

It seems that the Big Five (Roush, Hendrick, RCR, Gibbs, and Penske) are battling for what little sponsorship money there is out there and everyone else is either going to run a full schedule on a shoestring (start and park0, run a partial schedule, or fold entirely).

Also, when are the TV contracts up for renewal and can you realistically see less money being offered than what was given the last time the contracts were up?

Michael Koltuniak
Plymouth, Mich.

There are still plenty of interested sponsors. However, from what I've been told, the really big-dollar sponsorships aren't there.

(Pardon me if I wonder if an "anti-hunger" campaign is paying the same freight as Lowe's.)

If you watched the episode of "Undercover Boss" that featured NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps, you heard him say the sport reached its high-water mark a few years ago. As you point out Michael, the teams hardest hit by this are the ones that can't afford to weather the storm we're now in. (You don't see Mark Martin or Ryan Newman starting-and-parking despite not having full sponsorship, do you?)

The crazy thing is that not even big dollars can save you. George Gillett came into the sport with deep, deep pockets, and now Richard Petty Motorsports is on the verge of shuttering its doors.

All of this is to say that for now and into the near future, the gap between the haves and have nots is only going to grow.

As for the TV contracts, they run through the 2014 season. The terms of the deal, reportedly around $4.5 billion, are presumably guaranteed, which will keep the sport rolling. However, there is no way NASCAR is getting anywhere near that number in its next deal, meaning the sport and everyone involved in it will almost definitely have to make some adjustments to meet a new financial world heading into the 2015 season and beyond.


NASCAR has made the same mistake Las Vegas made a few years ago – it has tried to make the NASCAR experience more "family" friendly. A bad move. It needs to pull the plug on "Digger," and all the other crap like trying to curb fighting and pushing other drivers off the track. Let 'em race, and get outta my face.

Scotty Meyers
San Francisco

As a NASCAR fan in San Francisco, do you qualify for affirmative action?


What drivers do you think will be added to the 25 next year?

Bobby Isaac was my uncle he was so great back in the '60s and '70s. I hope one day he will be in at least the 25 . 37 wins, 50 poles, 1970 Winston Cup champion and all them speed records in that famous '71 dodge. That is at the hall of fame right now.

Mark Isaac
Newton, N.C.

First off, he was, is and always will be your uncle, and he will get in.

As for who the five will be added to the list of potential nominees, admittedly I'm not a NASCAR history expert, but I'll give it a try: Rusty Wallace, Chris Economaki (journalist), Jack Roush, Smokey Yunick and … Bobby Isaac.


Just once I'd love to hear a member of the pit crew come on the radio and blast a driver for screwing up (overdriving the car, speeding on pit road, etc). Drivers do it all the time. When there are problems with a pit stop, there are seven guys that go over the wall. There may be two guys who may each have one issue all night but the driver blasts them for the whole world to hear.

Once Kyle Busch even parked his truck out on the track for the pit crew to push in. Why can't these guys realize that they are dealing with humans, no one makes the mistakes on purpose, and expecting perfection from all seven guys on seven different pit stops is not realistic?

Mark
Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.

A lot of it is heat-of-the-moment reaction, but I hear ya barking. The one thing I don't think gets pointed out enough is the bravery of the over-the-wall guys. Did you see Kevin Harvick's stall at the end of pit road at Martinsville? That's like changing a tire in the right lane of the 405, and those guys don't bat an eye. I couldn't do that.


Fantasy land …

Here are my Fantasy NASCAR picks for the week:

A Group: Jeff Gordon, Juan Palbo Montoya
B Group: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Ragan
C Group: Paul Menard, Scott Speed


Last call …

I think the weirdest thing about being Kasey Kahne right now would be knowing that Richard Petty doesn't like me.

Andy Wardlaw
Burbank, Calif.

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