One race into the Chase and already there's plenty to talk about. Before we get to the mailbag, you can now find Yahoo! Sports: NASCAR in Twitter. Follow us right here.
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Ok Jay, love your column but have to ask what you were on with the comment "there remained legitimate concerns about whether Hamlin has the mental fortitude to withstand a 10-race marathon. He appeared to have erased that question Sunday."
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How can you answer the question 1 race in when you're questioning his mental fortitude over 10 weeks?
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
That's a fair question. It wasn't just what Hamlin did in the race, though I think the poise he showed was huge, but what he said afterward. Hamlin explained that he has basically broken down the Chase race by race, setting expectations for each.
How is this going to help him?
I equate it to driving through rush-hour traffic. Before I get on the road, I check the traffic situation. That allows me to set my expectations. When I come up on a red zone, I'm not surprised, and thus less likely to get anxious about it.
This is essentially what Hamlin did Sunday.
When he got spun out with fewer than 100 laps to go, he immediately reset his goals for that race. He now wanted a top 15. That not only calmed him down, but more importantly prevented him from feeling like he had to make some dramatic, risk-it-all move to get to the front, which, had he done, could have resulted in a DNF instead of a second-place finish.
"As soon as you spun and you're backwards, immediately your focus has got to go to get a good day out of this," he explained. "What can we do to get a good day, whether it's now we have to play strategy to get back up front, or we just hope that there's other attrition.
"I think years ago I really would have kind of flipped out, but I think now [I'm] just a little bit more relaxed."
Yes, it's only one race, but the fact that he wound up finishing second will surely have an impact on his decision-making going forward. Because now he knows that even if he's forced to lower his expectations, a great result can still be in the cards.
New faces in the crowd
Jay, looking at the up and coming, I predict next years Chase to have a few different names in the field. Some new and young drivers are cutting their teeth pretty good.
Take Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger for example, got a pole each and both can race in the top ten the whole race. Juan Pablo Montoya proved it last year and was surprised he did not make it this year. Hopefully RPM will provide their two drivers, Marcos Ambrose and AJ the quality cars next year and both of those two will be battling for the top twelve.
Then you have Brad Keselowski, who has proved hisself in the Nationwide series but needs that monkey off his back in the Cup series. Then there is the NAPA teams that are starting to really contend along with Martin Truex Jr.
If these drivers can string the top ten enough and a couple of wins, while not having the DNF's, it will be exciting.
On another note, as a Virginia native and from Stuart, Va., will the Woods Brothers field a full schedule next year?
I remain high on Montoya, who I'm convinced is a top-five driver in the Cup Series, and you could throw Jamie McMurray in your mix, too. Only two drivers have more top-three finishes this season than McMurray's seven.
Logano, to me, is definitely showing improvement, but the jury is still out on him. Allmendinger still needs to prove he can finish races as well as he starts them.
And then there is Keselowski. Yes, he's racing for a championship in the Nationwide Series. But who cares, right? Not only does he not have a single top 10 all season in the Cup Series, but he's finished in the top 15 only six times. For me, he's been a huge disappointment, right behind JPM, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin.
As for the Wood Brothers, my understanding is they're employing a part-time strategy which allows them to be a little more competitive in the races they do enter, so no, don't think you'll be seeing them run a full schedule.
The never-ending debate
Here is the only Chase points suggestion that makes any sense. Give the top 12 5,000 points to start (or no points or any other arbitrary number NASCAR likes the look of). Give the regular season points winner 120 points, second 110, etc. Give the winners of races an additional 10 points per. This gives people an incentive to race the entire regular season AND an incentive to try and win. It also doesn't make the entire first part of the season completely irrelevant to the second.
I had a conversation with Mike Helton this past weekend in New Hampshire. In it, I said I'm adamantly against the Chase seeding process. Here's what he had to say about that:
"I would make an argument that the current seeding process with value placed on wins has an element to it that applies to the entire season as well as points. And, oh by the way, it emphasizes winning the race and puts value to it. That's why it's there, and I would respectfully debate with you that that's good for the entire season."
I've made it clear that I think there needs to be a bigger points differential between winning and finishing second, and by extension that would seed the Chase based on wins as well as on points. NASCAR, however, believes there is enough of a differential as it is now.
This is the disconnect, and as long as NASCAR thinks a 15-point bonus for winning a race is enough, the way points are allocated will remain the same.
Want suspense for the chase?? Run 31 races, then take the top 32 drivers into sudden death NCAA style tournament where driver with points lead is matched with driver 32nd in points and so on. Driver who finishes ahead between the two moves on, other driver is "one and done." Sixteen drivers to week two with same seeding, all the way to last week when only two drivers are left in Homestead to battle for the championship. Anyone for November madness in a pressure cooker??
Jay Based on Sunday's results, look for a new elimination format next year. Based on Sunday's results, Jimmie Johnson would have been out of the Chase.
Any elimination wouldn't come until at least two or three races into the Chase, meaning drivers would have Dover and possibly Kansas to move into the safe zone. This highlights the reason why I'm warming to the idea of an elimination format. How intriguing would that make the next two races if Johnson were in danger of being eliminated? You might not like it, but be honest – would you tune in to watch?
This and that …
Hey jay do you think Jeff Gordon will win a race this year or will his winless streak continue.
For part of Sunday's race at New Hampshire, I started to believe that maybe Gordon had something. Then, as has been the case for the last four months, he faded at the end.
There is something missing with this team right now. A lot of fingers are being pointed at crew chief Steve Letarte. I don't think he's all of the problem – Hendrick, as an organization, has been slightly off this season – but when the same thing happen over and over – in this case, Gordon's car going away from him late in races – you have to start looking at the source of the problem, and it's Letarte's job to improve the car.
Will he win a race this season? I think it's possible, but the way he's running right now, not probable.
Harvick DOMINATED??? How many races did he WIN? 'nuff said about that.
Question about Nationwide: Since NNS teams are limited to the number of tire sets they can have, is it possible for them to, say, split one set into two sets of right sides only? If there isn't a rule against it, why hasn't anyone tried it?
First to your question: It's a good idea, in theory, but it's my understanding that the tires Goodyear provides are constructed specifically for either the right or left side. I guess they could put lefts on the right side, but I'm not sure how long they would last and if that would give a team an advantage.
As for Harvick, he absolutely dominated the regular season. You need only to look at his points lead – 228 after 26 races – to determine that. But let's dig a little further: He has the most top fives, the most top 10s (by three) and his three wins are bettered only by Denny Hamlin (six) and Jimmie Johnson (five). The one area where he has not dominated is laps led – just 230 compared to Johnson's series-leading 1,083. But consistency does still count for something, and no one has been close to Harvick in that category.
Wow! I can't believe this season is almost over! Only four races left to watch! (Dover, Martinsville, Talladega, and Phoenix)
San Jose, Calif.
Hmmm, let's see, you've left out Auto Club, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead. What's the common denominator here?
Per the usual, here are my picks this week:
Last call …
How ironic will this this video be in a year or two?