NASCAR CEO Brian France said a few weeks ago that he wanted to create more "Wow" moments in Sprint Cup racing.
Well, I definitely said "Wow" during the last couple of laps at last Sunday's Cup race at Watkins Glen. Winner Marcos Ambrose and runner-up Brad Keselowski showed just how good NASCAR road racing can be as they battled, bumped, rubbed and slid on an oily track.
I (along with others) have criticized NASCAR in the past for throwing unnecessary caution flags, and a caution on that final lap would have definitely ruined one of the best finishes of the season. Jeff Gordon and a few others disagree with that statement, but I think that NASCAR got it right. Corner workers and officials couldn't see any oil on the track from Bobby Labonte's expiring engine. Even the drivers couldn't see it, although most said they definitely felt it. A disappointed Gordon and equally glum Dale Earnhardt Jr. expressed their frustration in post-race interviews. Mum on the subject was Kyle Busch, who was leading at the checkered flag but finished seventh after contact with Keselowski. Had the positions been reversed, would Shrub have let Brad cut in front of him to regain position? I think not. Of course, the web has been buzzing with opinions all week, most of them based on whether their driver gained or lost in the exchange. Will we see some payback at Michigan tomorrow? I hope not. Payback at 200-plus miles per hour can get really ugly.
Speaking of payback, I advise you to catch today's NASCAR Nationwide race from Montreal. Jacques Villeneuve will again be in a Penske Dodge, but the former F1 champ had better watch out. Danica Patrick has a score to settle from the Road America race in June, where Villeneuve dumped her and ruined a sure top-5 finish. And given Villeneuve's history with others in the Nationwide series road races, Patrick won't be the only one gunning for him. I wonder if the local sports book is running a pool on how many laps he'll run before somebody puts him in the fence?
The race to make it into the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship is down to the final four races, and NASCAR's decision to throw two wild-card entries into the Chase is appearing nothing short of brilliant. NASCAR took a lot of heat from press and fans for instituting the Chase in the first place, and then for adding the wild card a couple of years ago. But it is definitely adding interest to the racing this season. Wild card Chase berths go to the two drivers in point positions 11 through 20 with - a) the most wins and b) the most points. Going into Michigan, Kasey Kahne is currently on top of the wild-card standings, 11th in points with two wins. Ryan Newman is also in at the moment with one win and 13th place in the standings. Carl Edwards is 12th in points but is winless so far this season, although his front-row start for tomorrow's race bodes well for a victory. Other drivers standing 20th or better in points with one win are Kyle Busch (14th), Jeff Gordon (15th), Marcos Ambrose (17th) and Joey Logano (18th).
A couple of bad races could put Kevin Harvick (9th with no wins) and Martin Truex Jr. (6th with no wins) in jeopardy of losing their spots. Ambrose set pole time at 203 mph at Michigan in June, so he could pull off his second win. Edwards also runs well at Michigan, with the fourth-best driver rating at the track. It's going to go down to the wire at Richmond for those last two Chase spots, just what NASCAR had in mind when they introduced the concept.
If you want to check out some local racing action, Fernley 95A Speedway is back in action tonight with a full program including box stock Outlaw Karts, IMCA Modifieds, Pro Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Dwarf cars, Mod Minis, and Pure Stock Minis. Spectator gates open at 3 p.m., and general admission is $8 with discounts for kids, seniors and military in uniform.