The 2015 Chase Begins at Chicagoland from a NASCAR Fan’s View

Rusty Norman

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It’s been a long hot summer and the waiting is finally over for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Some got their wins early and have been waiting most of the year for this weekend to arrive. While some had to sweat it out to the very last race to qualify for the Chase others have just been waiting patiently, working and probably experimenting with different possibilities to improve their performance for the 10 race Chase starting Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway.

The rainout of qualifying Friday afternoon left many questions open and the field will line up according to their best times in the first practice. Several teams missed their starting setups and were totally surprised at how rough certain areas of the track were and had to try and quickly rethink their setups to get up to speed since they knew the rain was coming. For some it worked and for others, well, let’s just say the jury is still out.

I can’t remember in recent times seeing such a strong field qualified for the Chase and competing for the Sprint Cup Championship. I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if only these sixteen would be competing on the track for the Championship like some have suggested in the past but I know that isn’t the way things work. You and I both know that forty-three cars will start every one of the next ten races and all sixteen of the contenders for the Championship will have to contend equally for position with those other twenty-seven over the next three. After that, the field contending for the Championship will be down to twelve for three races and then… well… you know how the Chase format works.

At first, I didn’t think I would much care for the Chase format and the way they had it structured. Even though the way it was at first was okay, the newest format with sixteen contenders is by far better and more interesting than the original way. Maybe it’s because more drivers and teams are involved or maybe it’s just because the teams have learned how to better deal with the Chase format, but whatever the case, it is better now than ever. Well, at least it has been. We’ll find out more as this one progresses.

So what is it about the Chicagoland Speedway that so many drivers are looking forward to the race there this Sunday afternoon? Is it because they like the track so much or is it because they just want to get this thing started so they can see how they will measure up to the competition? Is it because they know many of the contenders they face in the Chase haven’t had to show everything they have over the last month or so because they have one or more wins this season or is it perhaps because the mind games are just beginning?

Whatever the reason, this first race in the Chase will show how many of the contenders are really ready for it to begin and those that may wish they had a few more weeks to work on getting more speed out of their cars.

Coming into this weekend many have already declared the Joe Gibbs teams as the ones to beat. Some have even declared all four teams will be the ones battling amongst themselves for the Championship in the race at Homestead in November leaving the other teams wondering what hit them. I suppose that is a possibility but this fan isn’t ready to draw that conclusion just yet. In fact, I expect other teams to show a little more speed and overall strength than they may have shown in recent weeks.

I’m not saying the Gibbs teams don’t have it all locked up and I’m not saying others have been sandbagging up to this point. What I am saying is, sometimes in past years, the ones that looked the strongest in the last part of the races leading up to the Chase weren’t at all as strong as it appeared they were. Just because JGR teams have won eight of the last eleven races doesn’t mean they will continue with their streak throughout the Chase. Of course I do have to admit, it doesn’t mean they won’t either.

There have been times when some teams have stepped up to the plate when it looked like they were the ones least likely to make it past the first round. In a different format of the Chase, Tony Stewart comes to the mind of this NASCAR fan when he won five of the ten Chase races to take the Championship over Carl Edwards a few years back. Up to actually making it in, it didn’t even look as though he was going to make it into the Chase that year. Last year, the Hendrick teams looked like they would be the rightful heirs to the Sprint Cup but they fell far short of those expectations.

The Stewart-Haas teams of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Bush intend to take it to the JGR teams and Kevin Harvick has already stated he intends to put a pounding on them during the Chase. If anyone can do that, Harvick can and he has been strong most, if not all season.

You see, it doesn’t always matter how well a team or teams performed getting to the Chase and the way the Chase format is laid out really doesn’t allow much room for bad performances once it starts. From this fan’s view, what really matters is who shows up with their game face on and takes it to the competition each and every lap of every race and makes things happen with every pit strategy and performance on the track. In the end, that’s where the real champions show up. That’s what makes it interesting and I don’t know how you feel about it but, I like it this way…

And then there are those other twenty seven teams that have every intention of using every bit as much of their available resources during the Chase to win as many races as they can even if they aren’t in the Chase and running to win the Sprint Cup Championship…

See ya next time…

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 18, 2015 – all rights reserved

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