Is 12 drivers in the Chase evolution or dilution?
Does having 12 drivers in the Chase dilute the field? What do a 25-year-old Alabama song, Bristol Chaseology and Scott Riggs have in common? Marty Smith has some ideas.
- No one, it seems, is ever satisfied with NASCAR. The formats and the rules and the cars and the tracks and the decisions and the penalties. Something always is being questioned. This week's lead topic has been broached by hundreds of folks in The Six over the past two years Marty, I wrote to you about this last year and my opinion hasn't changed: Increasing the Chase from 10 to 12 drivers dilutes the field, in my opinion. First of all, it seems really awkward talking about the "top 12" instead of the "top 10," and second of all, when you let more guys in, it erases some of the drama that Brian France was looking for when he created the Chase. Does a 12th-place driver really deserve a shot at the Cup?-- Jamie Miller, Huntingdon, Tenn.Initially I was opposed to the expansion, Jamie. I, too, felt it diluted the achievement of making the playoffs. Less is so often more.
with Marty Smith
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This little experiment was well received last week, so we're going to continue it for the rest of the season. (Or at least until The Six say otherwise.)Marty, Like you, I'm a stat geek, and Chaseology was awesome. Feed the beast! Give me more!-- Jackson Sewell, Chattanooga, Tenn.
As for Junior, it's really not that bad, man. The No. 88 team isn't performing at the level it was earlier in the year, but if you ask Junior, that's a product of the midsummer schedule. Sonoma is his worst track, and he's not especially good at New Hampshire, Pocono or Watkins Glen, either. But with Bristol and Richmond on the horizon, I expect a resurgence in the next few weeks. "I am looking forward to the last third of the season," Earnhardt said last weekend at Michigan. "We seem to do really well at all them race tracks. We seem to gain a lot of points, or have the ability to gain a lot of points, in those two stretches, the first and last part of the season. "I figured the summer would be rough, and it was. I don't know why that is other than there aren't any favorite racetracks of mine in that little stretch. That is one thing I know for sure. We tried the best we could to get through that stretch pretty good and do better. I don't know, I wasn't no happier about it than I have been in the past."[+] EnlargeJohn Harrelson/Getty ImagesJunior Nation is growing concerned with the performance of the 88.
- TENNESSEE WHISKEY: The No. 07 team is struggling mightily. Judging by Clint Bowyer's recent performance on intermediate tracks, Fontana doesn't bode well. That makes Bristol crucial. Bowyer currently is tied with David Ragan in 13th position -- 26 points out of 12th. This should be a separation race for the 07 -- Bowyer's past three Bristol finishes are eighth, third and third. Ragan's, meanwhile, are 26th, 41st and 21st. And remember: Bowyer won Richmond in May. This weekend is critical for him.
- WE BELONG: Denny Hamlin is losing his cool. He has dropped five positions in five races, and his frustration is palpable. After a blown engine relegated him to a 39th-place finish at Michigan, he dropped to the precipice of falling out of the Chase and questioned whether his team belongs there. It does, and it'll make it. Hamlin nearly won Bristol in the spring before a fuel pickup issue foiled his day, and he was the class of the field at Richmond, leading 380 laps before a tire issue stole his dream.Bristol poses a daunting task for drivers on the bubble. Accidents happen fast and furious in Thunder Valley. Positions six through 12 aren't safe, although Stewart, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick look stable. Stewart and Harvick both were in contention to win Bristol in the spring. Ninth through 12th are dicey. Gordon has five wins at Bristol and an 82-point cushion on 13th, but the No. 24 continues to struggle. Kenseth is great at Bristol as well and must continue that trend with just a 74-point cushion. Kasey Kahne is 11th in the standings and has finished second and seventh in his past two trips to Bristol, but the No. 9 bunch needs to regain the midsummer form that propelled them back into relevancy.
- CLINCH WARMER: To clinch a Chase spot after Bristol, drivers must carry a 391-point lead over 13th place to Fontana. Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson already are well ahead of that pace and likely will clinch this weekend. Earnhardt needs to gain 16 points on 13th place to clinch, and Jeff Burton must gain 20 points.
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