Commentary

Expect Chasers to dominate the Chase

Updated: September 17, 2010, 3:36 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- For all you Chase haters, I have some bad news.

Chasers are going to dominate the 10 playoff races, starting Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

And that leads to more bad news: The 12 Chasers are going to get most of the attention from us media folks.

That's right. You see, that's how it works. The contenders who run up front get talked about and written about more than everyone else.

Kind of like once the MLB playoffs start nobody cares about the Seattle Mariners and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Heck, nobody cares about them now, but you get my drift.

If your favorite driver isn't in the Chase, don't slip your transmission when he isn't mentioned or doesn't have a big color photo in the Monday newspaper after finishing 29th.

Jimmie Johnson
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAll the media attention goes to Chasers, including spring New Hampshire winner Jimmie Johnson.

There's an easy way to solve that problem. Have him win a Chase race. And good luck with that. It doesn't happen often.

Chasers have won 28 of the 30 Chase races in the previous three seasons. That's 93.3 percent since 2007.

If you're tired of hearing about four-time champion Jimmie Johnson going for five in a row, you're in for a disappointment. Johnson has won 11 of those 30 races. He also won at New Hampshire in June.

"I know we say every year everyone has a chance," Johnson said Friday. "But, honestly, there's a wide group of guys that can win this thing."

He means win the Chase, which probably is the most competitive field in the seven-year history of the playoff.

But win a race down the stretch? For Chasers, absolutely. For the others, not so much.

For those of you looking for some non-Chase love, at least there's a 6.7 percent chance one of those guys will win, based on the previous three seasons. Unfortunately, that percentage is a little lower for the Chase opener on the 1-mile oval at Loudon.

Try 0 percent. A Chaser has won the September race at NHMS all six years since the playoff was implemented.

Only seven of the 12 playoff drivers for 2010 have won a race this season, but those seven have 21 victories. In most years past, at least you had the satisfaction of someone being in the Chase who never had made the playoff before.

Not this year. All 12 guys have raced in a previous Chase. The 2008 season was the only other time that happened.

"We've all been here," Kevin Harvick said Friday about the Chase field. "We all know what it takes, and all 12 teams are capable of getting on a hot streak for 10 weeks."

Harvick was the regular-season points leader, which isn't worth much once the Chase starts. His three victories enable him to start the Chase tied for third with Kyle Busch, 30 points behind Denny Hamlin and 20 behind Johnson.

"I think we have the best chance to win [the Chase] because of the mindset we've been in all season," Harvick said. "If we do what we did in the regular season, I don't think we need to do any better."

And if he does it, Harvick will receive plenty of attention. Despite what some fans think, more drivers (and especially their sponsors) receive attention during the Chase than they would without a Chase.

If Greg Biffle finishes 37th at New Hampshire, reporters will write about it and broadcasters will talk about it because he will start the playoff in a deep hole.

If no Chase existed, the media wouldn't care that Biffle had a bad day because he wouldn't be in contention to win the championship without a playoff format.

The same is true for non-Chasers. If David Ragan finishes 30th Sunday, no one will say much about him or the No. 6 Ford. And they wouldn't say anything about him if there wasn't a Chase.

But Chase or no Chase, Ragan will become a one-week media darling if he wins, or even contends to win, Sunday at NHMS.

That's unlikely. Of the 31 non-Chasers who will start each playoff race, only four have won this season.

Jamie McMurray is the most accomplished non-Chaser ever this year with victories in the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Ryan Newman won at Phoenix, Juan Pablo Montoya won the road course race at Watkins Glen and David Reutimann won at Chicago.

Phoenix is the next-to-last Chase race, so Newman is the only driver outside the Chase to win an event at any of the eight Chase tracks where the Cup series raced earlier this season.

Whether there's a Chase or not, the same guys would run up front. But it appears, statistically speaking, the Chase brings out the best in the best.

"We have to step it up," said Jeff Burton, one of the Chasers who hasn't won this season. "This is the most fun 10 weeks of the year. This is what you live for. Every time I get in the Chase, I tell myself I waited my whole life to be in this position, so that's a hell of a cool thing.

"It's going to be intense. When you waited your whole life for something and it's in front of you, it's going to be full of emotion, and it should be. It's go time. What teams are going to do it over the next 10 weeks? That's a question none of us know."

What we do know is Chasers dominate races in the Chase. That shouldn't come as a surprise. It's the reason they're in the Chase. They got it done when they had to have it.

Chasers win in the Chase, so Chasers get most of the media coverage. Like it or not, that's how it is.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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