And So The Chase Begins – From A NASCAR Fans View

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Rusty NormanThe Chicagoland Speedway is this years starting point for the Chase and many are happy with the choice and yet there are those that are somewhat wary. For some, the mile-and-a-half-tracks are a place where they perform well and can show their strengths while for others it may be their biggest weakness. Add to that the fact that almost half of the tracks visited in the Chase are mile-and-a-half, there is a reason why some are happy and others are… well… not so happy.

If you happened to catch the qualifying session Saturday afternoon, you probably noticed the difference in the qualifying times compared to the first practice session times. The biggest standout to me was the times were slower and the cars mostly seemed to be tail-happy. In fact, to this fan it looked a bit like watching them run at Atlanta. I don’t expect the appearances to continue on in their similarity but I do think the Chicagoland track is going to prove to be the challenge it has been. I also think starting at this track should prove to make this first race in the Chase all the more interesting than it might have been.

From my observations of the practice and qualifying sessions, it appears the Fords are fast once again, but, the question still remains in my mind if their speed will hold up over the expected long green flag runs. As I have often said, practice and qualifying may not tell us very much about race-day but the consistency of the lap-times and what happens on the longer runs along with what happens in the pits will make all the difference. As I am sure you have noticed, I’m not a big fan of building expectations on how a driver qualifies.

From this fans view, there is something else that causes me to think the qualifying times aren’t much of a measuring stick of how the race will go on Sunday afternoon. Yeah, it’s true the Fords and Dodges looked very fast in practice and they qualified well. My problem is, I’m just not sure the mind games haven’t already begun.

What do I mean by that? It’s quite simple really… I’m just not sure everybody is showing what they have, yet. I know this may sound a bit ridiculous, but honestly, I just don’t think the Toyotas and Chevys were showing what they have yet. I could be wrong, but judging from the way things have gone in the last several weeks, both have seemed to perform much better on race-day and have shown unexpected strength when it came right down to it.

Now you might ask, “Well, isn’t that kind of a crazy thing to do knowing what is at stake for them?” Yes, you’re probably right but, not if they have a good grip on the capabilities of their equipment. Now, I’m not saying any of this is based on fact, or even rumor. I’m just saying the mind games start early when it comes to the Chase and this could be exactly that – a way for the Fords and Dodges to become a bit complacent leading up to Sunday afternoon and the Chevys and Toyotas to jump on their over confidence and take advantage of them in the first week. Of course, it is always dangerous to play this game because it can set you back in a hurry if it is a strategy and it fails. But, whose gonna know, because if they are doing it, they would never admit it anyway – (uh, can anyone say, Paul Menard? Oops, there I go launching those Black Helicopters again…)

Another possibility that has to be considered for Sunday afternoon’s race is there are basically two different races going on. One is just to win the race no matter where you are in the points and the other is to establish momentum entering into the next races. To clarify, I’m saying it might not be a Chase contender that ends up in Victory Lane Sunday afternoon.

There are thirty-one other drivers and and teams on the track other than the twelve Chasers and most any of them wouldn’t hesitate to take the trophy away from any of those in the top twelve given the opportunity. In fact, I should say that is what they would rather do. Just because there are twelve great drivers actually in the Chase doesn’t mean they are the only ones that can win a race. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this was the year that none of the twelve in the Chase won any of the final ten races and all of them were won by some of those vying for thirteenth place? (Hey, I know that sounds a bit absurd too, but it is not an impossibility. There may not actually be thirty-one teams that can really win one, but there are at least twenty teams that could and about eight that wouldn’t surprise anyone if they did.)

So… you’re probably wondering which of them I think is going to win on Sunday, aren’t you? Yeah, I have to admit, I’m kind of wondering who it might be also. Personally, I think it is going to be a Chevy. Will it be a Hendrick or Childress Chevy? Yeah… could be… (you know what they say about the cream rising to the top, don’t you?)

From this fan’s view, I think it will be a Hendrick Chevy but I’m still not convinced it will be one of the ones in the top twelve even though Jimmie Johnson looked confident on Saturday afternoon. One problem I have with the Chevys winning is a Ford driver named Matt Kenseth… he just might pull off the upset, (from my view, that is.)

All I can say is, you might as well sit back, relax and enjoy the racing because this fan thinks it is going to be some of the best racing and closest competition in a Chase for the Championship we’ve ever had the privilege as fans of watching, especially since the Chase format was instituted in the Cup series…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 17, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and
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