The Chase Begins At Chicago…


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Rusty Norman

And so the Chase begins… except it’s different this year. Now it is the Elimination Chase. For those that aren’t quite up to speed on the new Chase format yet, four cars are eliminated every three races, leaving four cars to compete, head-to-head, at the final race at Homestead. So, it’s not really ten races for all 16 competitors all the way to the end at Homestead but it is three races to win or gain better points to advance to the next segment of three races. In the end it’s supposed to make for a much more exciting and dramatic end to the year and the final race that will declare the Cup champion.

In this fan’s opinion, I think it will do that but I still think the cream will rise to the top and it won’t be that big of a surprise which ones end up going for the trophy on the final weekend at Homestead. Of course there are more than 16 strong cars in the mix even though all of them didn’t qualify for the Chase. All of those in the Chase will have to compete against all of the Chase qualifiers as well as all the rest of the 43 car field every week. For some that could spell trouble and for others, well… it could mean the difference between advancing or not.

Even this weekend will be a little different because of qualifying being rained out. With that happening the pit selections won’t be according to the usual fashion but according to the first practice session. I really hate to state the obvious but, when it comes to maintaining track position during the race, pit stall location can make a world of difference. Even a better car may not be able to beat those with better spots out of the pits when the faster car has a less than desirable pit selection. When it comes down to the end of the race, a lot can be decided in the pits and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which team it might benefit) the race can be won or lost on the final pit stop.

So let’s talk a little about what’s going on at the Chicago track for the Cup teams this weekend. First off, it will be a bit cooler this weekend than it was last weekend at Richmond. Fall is definitely in the air and, even though it won’t be cold for the race, it has been different for all three practice session if compared to what is expected for Sunday afternoon.

Add to that the fact Goodyear brought a different tire for the teams to use this weekend and, although it may not amount to much in the end, it has brought a little more challenge to the crew chiefs for the weekend. The drivers have a little different feel for the track and it has required them to adjust to something that may not feel as good to them as they would like.

Another thing several have mentioned as challenges for this weekend are the rough areas of the track. It has been an interesting to watch them try to adjust to the different tire combination and the rough spots on the track. No doubt it has been a struggle for some but then that is why we as fans know that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

Just as a side note, it has also become relatively obvious that this is the first weekend some of the sixteen have felt pressure to perform in a while. If you listen to some, they’ve almost admitted that once they had the one win to make it into the Chase, they haven’t been as stressed week in and week out.

Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying they haven’t been working hard or haven’t been trying to win. They just haven’t felt the stress they would have normally have felt if it wasn’t for the “win and you’re in” part. If they won early, they were in the Chase and didn’t have to worry that much about performance. Now that the Chase has begun, the pressure is once again on to perform week-to-week just so they can advance to the next segment of three races. From this fan’s view, that adds a whole new dimension to the racing for at least the next nine races simply because of the new Chase format.

Okay, I’m going to do something this week I don’t particularly like to make a habit of doing. In fact, I don’t really do it very often at all anymore. I’d like to make a statement right now before the first race of the Chase begins and make my, uh, “suggestion” as to which of the 16 drivers will be the four that square off head-to-head at Homestead in November.

Let me say right up front, I have no idea how things will turn out but I do have an opinion, at least here at the beginning of the Chase, of the drivers I think will do what they’ve been doing all year. “What would that be,” you ask? Winning, of course and I expect them to continue doing that and consistently finishing in at least the top ten.

Okay, are you ready? (Understand I will quite likely have to re-evaluate, but at least I’m willing to put it down right here, right now at this moment. Also understand there are a few toss ups in my mind but I’m only choosing four for now.) I think the final four at Homestead will be Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon.

Well, that’s it for now…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 13, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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