Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fear, Intrepidation, and Anticipation

Apply this quote to the NASCAR season finale at Homestead:

'No turning back!?' Why did you have to go and say that? That's as bad as saying, 'nothing else can go wrong now,' or 'this will be Fluffy's best Christmas ever.'--Doctor Who

Todd Bodine won the Craftsman Truck Series (CTS) Championship Friday night, and all he had to do was finish the race. Our favorite, Johnny Benson, still had a chance to beat Bodine in points, until, while racing for second place, a truck spun into the infield, and then slid back up the track, right in front of him. There was no avoiding it, and Benson's hopes for the CTS Trophy disappeared long before the race was over. He was able to finish the race, but he finished in twenty-sixth place. What he needed was to finish in the top three positions, and have Todd Bodine finish twenty-eighth or worse. Bodine played it safe, running steadily in the twenty-first to twenty-sixth positions, not taking any chances. He finished twenty-second, which, considering Benson's troubles, was more than good enough to win the Championship.
Mark Martin won the race. His limited schedule in the truck series yielded a very high percentage of wins. In each race he entered in the CTS this season, he immediately became the one to beat. In eight of the CTS races this season, he either won or came in second.
Martin wa originally slated to race in CTS full time, next season, but, not wanting to be left out of Cup racing next year, he decided to give up his Ford ride with Roush Racing, and went for a twenty-two race Cup schedule in a Chevy. So, Friday's victory capped Martin's final career truck race in a Roush Ford. Bottom line--Martin, who has not won a NASCAR championship on any level, gave up a nearly certain CTS championship next year for a chance to continue racing in Cup.
Speaking of Cup, and remembering the quote at the start of this post, there is no sure thing about the outcome of the Nextel Cup Championship, or of Sunday's race. No doubt, Jimmie Johnson will be content to run safely in twelfth place for most of the race, which is all he needs to do to win the Championship, but that is easier said than done. The competition is heavy, with four other drivers who have a chance to win the Championship, several others who will race their hearts out to make sure they will have guaranteed in February's Daytona 500, and many others who will be giving it all they've got just to win a race. Johnson, or any of the top five contenders, could get caught up in something involving all these other drivers and see his Championship hopes go to the hauler prematurely.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 115 points out of the lead, absolutely has to win the race in order to win the Chase. Even winning wouldn't be enough--Johnson would have to finish thirty-nineth place or worse, and Matt Kenseth would have to have terrible luck. We already know that Earnhardt can't count on anything like that, but, still the Earnhardt fans will be watching just in case something does happen.
What will throw off every scenario for the Championship will be the domination of the Everham teams. Kasey Kahne has the season's best record this season on the intermediate tracks among all the drivers, but team mates Elliot Saddler and Scott Riggs are also very good drivers, and all three Everham drivers qualified in the top four positions on the starting grid--a definite advantage with a good car, and one that may keep any of the Championship contenders from gaining the all-important bonus points for leading a lap.
Brian Vickers may have learned his lesson at Talledega--where he won his first race a few weeks ago, and became arguably the most hated driver in the Cup series. But there are still plenty of wild cards, including Robby Gordon, JJ Yeley, and David Stremme, among many others. Robby Gordon is on the high of winning the Baja 1000 this week, and with a reputation of not giving a darn about other drivers on the track, he will happily ruin someone's Championship hopes to continue his winning streak. Yeley and Stremme, are not bad drivers, just inexperienced and on a steep learning curve. They have both made stupid mistakes this season, which have taken out other drivers, as well as themselves, and the contenders probably fear that the learning period isn't over. In NASCAR, one can't always avoid the mistakes of others.
So, the only predictions I can safely make this weekend is that the Championship will not be determined until the last lap, and that it will be a very exciting and fulfilling race at season's end.

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