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The first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway did two things… it gave Tony Stewart his first victory for the 2011 season and, as is usually the case, shook up the standings for the top twelve contenders in the Chase. Not unexpectedly, it turned into a fuel mileage race and several of the top names ran out of gas in the final laps which mixed up the standings even more and caused a little confusion as the checkered flag dropped. Matt Kenseth benefited from an illegal push on the last lap which cost him his eighth place finishing position and he was penalized by being placed as the first car a lap down. When all was said and done, the teams packed it up and immediately had to get ready to head for Loudon.
Disappointment was fairly obvious throughout the top teams and, in particular for those that ran out of fuel before the end of the race. Matt Kenseth’s situation was probably the most obvious since he sat on the pole and led almost fifty laps on the day. As it was, with the penalty and the empty fuel tank, he finished twenty-first instead of eighth because of being pushed (whether or not they wanted to be pushed or not, by the way) and ended up tenth in the standings after this first race.
Jeff Gordon and Kyle Bush both struggled all day with different problems, but Gordon probably was one of the most disappointed of all. After having a fairly stellar six plus weeks leading up to the first Chase race, this day was a complete struggle and only at the end did he and his crew get the car moving toward the front. As we all know, he ran out of fuel while running twelfth, ending any hope he had of finishing any where near the top ten, or, being able to take advantage of any of the others misfortunes of running out of fuel.
From this fan’s view, there was no doubt the intensity of the race was high and often it was the crew chiefs that bore the brunt of the abuse. I have to say, I don’t know how much crew chiefs get paid, but these days, they earn every penny. Not only do they have to have the proper strategy for all aspects of a race, but they have to handle the attitude of the crews and particularly the driver. From my view, it appears they often deserve more pay than anyone, including the driver. I’m fairly sure that is not the case, but many of the drivers would never make it to where they do without them.
Look, I know the drivers are the “glory boys” and get most, if not all, of the accolades simply because they are the ones the fans come to see and follow. But, think about it for a moment… Could you take some of the garbage the crew chiefs have to put up with and still be the leader of the crews and still keep the driver in the hunt and focused all the while maintaining and attitude of calm. Yeah… I hear ya and that’s kinda how I feel about it, too.
Although I know I mentioned this earlier, the races this season have seemed quite intense even from the drop of every green flag. As a fan, I find it interesting and haven’t quite figured out which rule change NASCAR made for this year that had the most effect on the drivers and their teams. In my opinion, whether it was the way they hand out the points for every race or the way teams were able to qualify for the Chase with those two wildcard slots, I just don’t know. From this fan’s view, something changed and it has been one highly competitive race after another all season. Now, I do admit, had it not been for the fuel situation, the Chicagoland race may not have had quite the intensity it did, but it was a nail-biter for many right down the the finish line.
In reality, I think it has been a combination of several things over the last couple of years that has caused the elevated intensity level. In my opinion, some of it was the additions of the wildcard spots and the way they now count points this year, but, I do think last year’s “boys have at it” attitude and the closeness of the competition also have to be considered. Were it not for all of these changes, this fan wonders if the competition would have been like it’s been or if it would have been a little less intense.
A couple of other things that probably should be considered would be performance issues of some teams and the economic impact on the sponsors. It is a well known fact this has been a tight year for everyone as far as finances go and the impact on every team is obvious. Sponsors are having to re-evaluate their overall financial involvement. The desire of those that are being backed by those sponsors to perform and show they are a valuable asset to those sponsors just adds more to the competition. When it comes to sponsorship of a team, it is expensive and not many can justify spending the amount it costs if the team is not competitive. To this fan, that translates to some of the increase in the intensity on every track the Cup Teams visit and the rest… well… that’s just racing…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 22, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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