Watching the Cup finale was like watching most Nationwide races. Few of the participants actually matter. You have your winner, you have those who actually are competing for the prize, and then you have the odd spectacular, special moment. Sunday’s race marked the end of ESPN’s run, which meant no more Allen, no more Dale, no more Andy, no more Rusty, no more Brad, and no more Nicole. A special moment, indeed.
As the final four prepare to thunder to their fate at Homestead, not everyone is thrilled with the new format to determine the Cup champion. Again and again I read how appreciative some are for NASCAR allowing them to do other things on a Sunday afternoon than watch a sport they have abandoned.
There are drivers you like and there are drivers you do not. If a driver should be a whiney revisionist weasel who does his best to avoid cashing the checks his mouth keeps on writing, I am not a fan. This is how I once viewed Kurt Busch, and it is how I presently see Brad Keselowski. For him to not make the Chase finale came as a welcome conclusion to the activities at Phoenix.
NASCAR sought unpredictability for its championship run, and they have it. If not for the Chase, Jeff Gordon would just need to hold off Joey Logano, 26 points back, over the next two races and the title would be his. If the Chase format had not changed from last year, Logano would be the man in charge, with Kevin Harvick 35 back with two to go. Not much drama, not terribly unpredictable, and to change that up is the sole reason NASCAR changed things up this season.
“I need to learn how to slow down. In everything else I drove, I’ve had to make up for the lack of equipment,” he explained. “You can’t do that in the Nationwide Series. The drivers are too good and the cars you’re racing against are really good.
Change where change is necessary is a good thing. NASCAR wanted us to keep watching, so out went the system that determined a champion based on season long performance. Winning is big, but it was not big enough, so in came the automatic Chase bye to race winners who at least put in the time to challenge Danica Patrick in the standings.
On the track, everything is just hunky dory for Dale Earnhardt Jr. For our money, he sits as the best on the season to this point, but there are a couple of storm clouds just over the horizon. Steve Letarte moves from crew chief to a pretty face on television next season, and the National Guard might be heading into the sunset with him. To be honest, we have long known about one, and have had suspicions about the other. Still, for you and I, these questions marks do not need to bother us until next year.