Chase turned potential snooze-fest into something worth watching

11/13/2007 - NASCAR

The right man is going to win the 2007 Nextel Cup championship, and you can thank the Chase format for making it happen.

All you Chase haters can complain from now until the sun implodes about how the playoff has cost Jeff Gordon another title.

Pure horse hockey. Jimmie Johnson is the driver who deserves the crown.

If you win 10 races in one season, including four in a row down the stretch, you earned it. Of Johnson's 20 top-5s this year, six have come in the past seven races.

He's going to win this title because he went for it at the end. Johnson didn't play it safe.

Gordon would have won by more than 300 points in the pre-Chase years. Talk about boring. And think how that would have looked.

Johnson is going to Victory Lane every week while the guy who has the title sewed up is posting decent results, but finishing behind him.

Is there any doubt which of these two teams is better heading to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

Johnson has outclassed the entire Cup field. The No. 48 Chevy crew is the New England Patriots of NASCAR. Johnson is Tom Brady and crew chief Chad Knaus is Bill Belichick. (Hey, both are brilliant strategists and both were caught bending the rules.)

Gordon has had a fantastic season. He won six times and will total the most points for 36 races. He also won twice in the Chase.

Most years, that would have been enough. Not this year.

Johnson has put on a phenomenal show over the past month. The championship is within his grasp because he won races when he had to.

Without the Chase, Johnson would have been just a guy who got hot at the end and outraced the champion. This playoff didn't produce the close finish at the end, but it will enable the right man to win the title.

Loophole, anyone?
The rule for a four-car limit in NASCAR has a gray area about as wide as the backstretch at Talladega.

The "partnership" between Yates Racing and Roush Fenway Racing may not officially break the rule of the four-car limit, but it certainly violates the intent.

RFR will build all the Yates Cup cars next season. Yates will lease its Mooresville, N.C., shop to Petty Enterprises and move its operation to Concord, N.C., next to Roush Fenway's shops.

Jack Roush said they have entered a service agreement with Doug Yates to provide them with technology and engineering support.

Robert and Doug Yates have to do this to survive. The team doesn't have a sponsor for either car heading into 2008. They have laid off more than 40 employees.

Roush Fenway already is one car over the limit with five. Roush probably will sell one car to Yates at some point. But for the time being, isn't this really nothing more than a seven-car operation?

Man in black
Did anyone else notice last weekend that Kasey Kahne has dyed his hair black?

What gives? Is he playing Elvis in a movie role we don't know about?

Take a bow, Sebastien
Sebastien Bourdais deserves recognition as one of the best drivers in the long and storied history of American open-wheel racing.

Some people won't see it that way as the Frenchman moves on to Formula One. Unfortunately for Bourdais, the state of American open-wheel racing today leaves doubts about his amazing accomplishments.

Bourdais won his last Champ Car event Sunday at Mexico City, overcoming a questionable pit-road penalty and a late caution that bunched up the field and eliminated his sizeable lead.

Bourdais is the only driver to win four consecutive championships in an Indy-car type series. And no NASCAR Nextel Cup driver has done it.

He won 31 of 73 starts for a remarkable .424 winning percentage. Even better, he won 28 of his last 54 starts for a .518 winning percentage. His eight victories this season tied the record set by Michael Andretti in 1991 and Al Unser Jr. in 1994.

But the open-wheel split meant Bourdais didn't get to test himself against the best of the best.

A win at the Brickyard would have helped. Bourdais raced in only one Indy 500, finishing 12th in 2005 after a late-race crash. If he had raced at Indy in all five of his Champ Car seasons, maybe a victory would have come his way.

One of his most remarkable wins was a surprising victory in the IROC race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2005, beating the NASCAR boys at their own game on a high-speed oval.

If Bourdais has success in F1, more people will give him credit for what he achieved on this side of the pond. That won't be easy driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso, one of the back-marker teams in the series.

Champ Car in Bourdais' era isn't the CART series of the past, but Bourdais did all he could do to prove he is one of the best race car drivers in the world.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.