Still plenty of interest in Chase

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Well, another NASCAR racing season is in the history books, and it was a mixed bag. First, I want to add my congratulations to Tony Stewart, who is, to my mind, one of the most talented and versatile drivers not only of this era, but of all time.

Last Sunday he did what he had to do with a car that was less than perfect. It reminded me a little of Tony nursing home a seriously wounded race car in the final laps of the Daytona 24 hour race a couple of years ago, turning competitive laps on three wheels. Tony, ya done good!

This was the second year of the controversial "Chase for the Championship" playoff format, and it seems to have had its desired effect. The idea was for the shootout among the top 10 drivers to garner more interest and more press, thereby giving NASCAR more visibility during the World Series and football season. And even though the sport's two arguably biggest stars, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. weren't involved, that lack didn't seem to matter as much as many (myself included) thought it would.

Although none of his drivers scored a third-straight Championship for his operation, Jack Roush can be proud of what he accomplished this year. All five of his drivers made the "Chase," and took second, third, and fourth in the final point standings. Not only that, but Roush cars wrapped up the top four finishing positions in the final race at Miami-Homestead. No wonder NASCAR wants to clip his wings by putting a cap on the number of teams under a single owner!

Probably the biggest ongoing story of the season had to do with tire failures. It got so bad at one point that NASCAR mandated a minimum right front tire pressure in the middle of a race!

Everyone carefully avoided blaming Goodyear, instead taking potshots at low tire pressures, excessive suspension camber, curbs, and track surfaces. But the fact remains that a lot of cars got torn up pretty badly due to tire failures. I can't remember a tire problem of this magnitude since the "tire wars" between Goodyear and Hoosier a number of years ago. I hope they get it figured out before Daytona in February.

A couple of items from the wonderful world of open-wheel racing. It seems as though Roger Penske's crystal ball is working as well as ever. He recently dropped Toyota as his engine supplier in his Indy Racing League operation, opting for Honda power for 2006.

Last week Toyota announced that it was moving its pullout from the IRL up a year, and would not be supplying engines next season. Penske locked himself into a deal while the final remaining IRL engine supplier still had engines to lease. Now Honda will be pressed to provide powerplants for the entire field.

Of course, that field just could be smaller by three to five teams, because a few of the smaller operations just won't be able to afford the $2 million engine leases from Honda. And the weird part is that now both the IRL and rival series Champ Car are now spec series with a single engine supplier, both use chassis from Panoz, and they STILL can't get together to make one viable series!

And the field for the Indy 500 will be a couple of cars short in 2006, as the Newman-Haas Champ Car team will not be entered, according to Champion Sebastien Bourdais. With Champ Car races scheduled for the two Indy qualifying weekends, it's going to be difficult for any Champ Car teams or drivers to participate. This could be the year that fewer than 33 cars start the race, particularly with recent layoffs at Panther Racing, Cheever Red Bull, and Ganassi Racing.

Finally, Paul Tracy, the Champ Car star that was supposed to run at Michigan for Richard Childress, was sighted in the garage area at Miami-Homestead last weekend, still working on a stock car ride. Tracy is Canadian, and now that NASCAR is making moves in that direction, he wants to do a limited NASCAR season in 2006 with an eye toward a full season including a possible Canadian race in 2007.


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