Thursday, September 07, 2006

This is It!

This is it. Down to the wire. And, yes, I'm antsy, excited, and a little irritable, looking forward to Saturday night's Cup race at Richmond.
After the checkered flag waves at Richmond, the top ten drivers in championship points will be the ten drivers on the podium at the post season banquet in December. This is one of the misgivings I have about the Chase for the Championship points system. There are ten races left, and there are more than ten drivers who could finish in the top ten under the old points system. However, under the Chase rules, the top ten will already be chosen, and there are only eleven drivers who could possibly make the top ten. On the other hand, the Chase rules do make this race very important for those eleven drivers, and the excitement level is high. Richmond is a short track, which means there will be a lot of contact, and a little bit of bad luck could take one of those drivers out.
Matt Kenseth and Jimmy Johnson, currently first and second in points, respectively, are mathimatically locked in to the top ten, meaning they don't have to finish the race to still be in the chase. For all practical purposes, Kevin Harvick, currently in third, has a spot on the podium, if he finishes the race. The other seven, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Burton, are all in jeopardy.
That jeopardy comes in the form of Kasey Kahne, the heartthrob of many a teenage girl--and the three women in a very funny series of Allstate Insurance commercials. Kahne, undoubtly a very talented driver is only thirty five points out of tenth, and is the winner of last year's final race at Richmond. This doesn't bode well for one of those seven.
I want to see Kahne in the top ten, but who would I want to see out? They all deserve to be on the podium, in fact, they all deserve to be crowned Champion. My first thought would be Jeff Gordon, but upon further thought, I would rather see Gordon in than his over-exhuberant team-mate, Kyle Busch. Don't ask me why, for I highly respect both drivers for their talent, Jeff Gordon, as I have said before, is arguably one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR. But I like my drivers to be racers, guys who would get in an car at any time just to participate in a race. Jeff Gordon doesn't do that--he is exclusively NASCAR Cup. He doesn't have time for extracurricular racing. While many of the other drivers will jump in a sprint car, or a late model dirt racer, often for charity events, Gordon would rather be on his yacht with his super-model fiance. So, maybe it is just his lifestyle that rubs me the wrong way. He is a NASCAR driver who would be a better fit socially with the likes of Formula One superstars Kimi Raikkonen or Michael Schumacher.To be fair, though he doesn't make himself as accessable to the fans as the other drivers do, he is not above signing autographs between the drivers' meeting and the garage.Like him or not, he truly deserves a spot on the podium with the season he has had.
The same could be said for Kyle "The Schrub" Busch. With an immense natural talent in driving, he has an immense ego to match. For some drivers, the ego is exactly what makes the driver a winner. No doubt, he is a champion in the making, and, as young as he is, Busch has a long and illustrious career ahead of him. He will have plenty of chances to compete in the top ten, and plenty of chances to be a champion. That is why I would pick Gordon to be in the top ten rather than Kyle this year.
I am nervous, but not too much, about Tony Stewart making the cut. If he doesn't, it would be the first time in his Cup career he wouldn't end the the season in the top ten. In fact, not counting his year in the Busch Series in 1998, he has never finished outside the top ten in any series he has ever raced in. That includes from go-carts to USAC sprints, midgets, and silver crown, to the Indy Cars, to NASCAR. Just a little nervous, knock on wood, because Stewart is smart, and though he doesn't like points racing, he will do the best he can to get the best finish without risking his position in the top ten. Like his idol and mentor, the late Dale Earnhardt, he has a knack for taking a twentieth place car to a top ten finish. Anything keeping him out of the top ten will not be by his own doing. He finished second in this race last year.
I want to see them all in the top ten. In fact, I would like to see twenty drivers in the Chase for the Championship. With any luck, there will be a tie for tenth place points, and we will see all eleven in the Chase. So, I wish the best of luck to all these drivers, and let's go racin'!

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