Drama begins anew n NASCAR
Jeff Gordon fans, rejoice! Your hero did what he had to do at Richmond last Saturday night, and snagged the final Chase wild card spot in a nail-biter. Kyle Busch fans, sorry about that.So the drama is over, and a new drama begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway when the twelve Chase drivers begin 10-race run for the coveted Sprint Cup championship. Denny Hamlin is the top seed with 12 bonus points (3 for each regular season win). Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Brad Keselowski start the Chase with nine bonus points each. Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer have six apiece and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth each have three. Starting with no bonus points are Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, and Gordon. Kahne’s and Gordon’s regular season wins don’t get them any bonus points according to the wild card rules.So who will go home with all the marbles in NASCAR’s premier division this year? If you look at the statistics, Jimmie Johnson looks awfully strong to win his sixth title. In the eight years and eighty races of the Chase format, he has the most wins (20) of any of this year’s Chase competitors. He also has the most top fives (43); top 10s (58); laps led (3883); highest average starting position (9.8); and highest average finishing position (9). He has led almost twice as many laps as Stewart, who has led 2186 and is also second in wins with 11. Gordon is the runner up in top fives with 30, and top tens with 49. Gordon has momentum going into the Chase, and you can never count Stewart out. Among the drivers who are still looking for their first championship, Hamlin is the strongest, with Keselowski right up there as well. But Earnhardt Jr. has shown remarkable speed and consistency this year, and if he wins you’ll see number 88 merchandise sales go through the roof. But if I were a betting man, my money would be on the number 48 Chevy.• • •The IndyCar series wraps up its championship run tonight at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Penske driver Will Power holds a slim 17-point lead going into the 500-mile night race, with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay in second place and the only driver who can beat Power. Power has gone down to the wire in the last two seasons, only to lose the title to Dario Franchitti. Can he pull it off this year? His oval stats aren’t nearly as good as his road-racing stats, but he’s not awful on the ovals. Qualifying could also be a factor, with three points on the line for whoever takes pole. If neither driver has bad luck in the form of a mechanical failure or a crash, it will be a very strategic race, with both pit boxes calculating exactly where their driver needs to finish. Last Sunday’s Formula 1 race at Monza was a Lewis Hamilton benefit, as the McLaren driver led every lap except for pit stops. Speaking of which, F1 pit stops this year are phenomenal, with a four-tire change taking as little as 2.7 seconds! Two title contenders, McLaren’s Jensen Button and Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, dropped out with mechanical problems. This gave third-place Fernando Alonso of Ferrari some breathing room in the points chase. Alonso holds the lead with 179 points in the drivers’ championship standings, but the next three spots are extremely close. Hamilton has 142 points, Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen 141, and Vettel 140. Vettel’s teammate Mark Jensen is not too far behind in fifth with 132. With seven races to go, any of the five could take the title.Locally, tonight is the final points race at Fernley 95A Speedway, so a good field of cars should be on hand. The track has been averaging about 70 entries per race, with over 80 on a couple of occasions. Spectator gates open at 3 pm and racing starts at 6 pm. General admission is $8, with discounts for seniors, kids, disabled, and military.