It is almost a certainty that without a win next week at Talladega six time champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, 2003 champion Matt Kenseth and the sport’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Those four are set for elimination after respective finishes of 17th, 16th, 19th and 20th in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
All but Earnhardt were pretty much authors of their own demise with sub-par performances in the second race of the Chase Contender Round.
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet looked early on to be a potential winner but a broken shifter, of all things, derailed his night.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this – big stars being dumped – when the tall foreheads at NASCAR’s headquarters dreamed up this new Chase format that starts with 16 drivers and gets whittled down by four after each three race segment leading to one final showdown of four drivers at Homestead Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.
What the Chase has done, however, is make every lap of every race count, witness the altercations on pit road post race where Keselowski lost his mind slamming his No. 2 Ford into Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Tony Steward in apparent retaliation for some bumping prior to the final restart at CMS.
Perhaps the pressure of being soundly out driven by his Team Penske garage mate Joey Logano in this Chase season is starting to get to Keselowski.
In any event it was bad form and the betting is that team owner Roger Penske – he of the starched white shirts – will have a sit down with his errant star to explain his actions were not “the Penske way”.
Hamlin chastised Keselowski, calling him “out of control” and accused him of unseemly behaviour.
“He’s desperate … he’s pissed off everyone,” Hamlin said. “Just disappointing … just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion.”
As for Keselowski he used the old school yard fight excuse for his actions.
“They hit me and I hit them back,” he said. “That isn’t the lesson you want to teach your kids. But this isn’t the schoolyard. This is serious stuff here. We’re all just trying to stand our ground.”
While Keselowski, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kenseth left Charlotte despondent, race winner Kevin Harvick was celebrating getting a free pass into the next Chase round and not having to worry what happens at Talladega – NASCAR’s most dangerous track – next Sunday afternoon.
“I won’t be anorexic and throwing up all week,” Harvick said of not having to deal with the pressure of having to win at Talladega. “This was the night that we needed to win. I don’t want to go to Talladega next week.”
What all this means is that as wild as Talladega can be, most drivers think it will be ten fold worse with so many top stars on the brink of getting shuffled out of contention for the big prize.
“You thought it was going to be wild, but now with the way it’s playing out, and especially those cars that have had bad races, it’s shaping up to be very epic,” Hamlin said. “Until the last lap, you will not know who is going to be in or out.”
The drivers who are in – Logano, who won at Kansas, and Harvick – can relax and really so can Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon who are in the top six headed to Talladega.
It is hard to believe considering the glorious history of Mercedes Benz in Formula 1 racing but Sunday’s win in the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi by Lewis Hamilton clinched the German auto giant’s very first Constructor’s title in the world’s top open wheel racing series.
And just to put a cherry on top it also finished second in the race with Nico Rosberg coming from last on the grid after a first lap mishap to follow Hamilton across the finish line.
Without Rosberg’s heroics there wasn’t much to say about the inaugural Russian F-1 outing.
Hamilton was the class of the field and was never once in even emote danger of being challenged.
NASCAR will likely issue fines on Tuesday to all involved in the Charlotte fracas but will stay away from deducting points because of the impact in might have on the new Chase system. …
Hamilton dedicated his win to Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, who is still in critical condition after last week’s carsh at Suzuka: “Without a doubt every time I got in the car this weekend, coming here and being here, I was just thinking of him and his family – and keeping him in my prayers each day.”