Racing’s big final weekend |

Racing’s big final weekend

Without a doubt, there are many very big football games being played this week, but even the most popular sport in America must take a back seat to NASCAR this weekend. The champion of the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup will be crowned Sunday at the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and there are five drivers still in the hunt.

Last year NASCAR produced a boring championship run and finish when Matt Kenseth won only once, yet clinched the title even before the final race. So NASCAR changed to the Chase format where only the top 10 point drivers qualified to compete over the final 10 races in order to determine the winner.

The change seems to have been a really great decision for NASCAR. The new system created its intended exciting tight points battle, and television ratings went up over last year’s in six of the first nine races. Those improved national ratings still did not nearly approach those of the NFL; however, they did surpass those of any particular college football game most of those weekends.

But if NASCAR and NBC really want to go after some TV ratings, why not schedule the final race at night? Why go up against the NFL on CBS and Fox during the day when they don’t have to? Being the last race of the season, there is no rush to get to the next race track. Most sports fans would normally rather watch football, but not as many people at home get the ESPN Sunday night game as they do NBC.

Prediction – Not knowing a whole lot about auto racing, or the results of this week’s qualifying and practice, or these drivers’ track records at Homestead, predicting the Cup champion becomes guesswork.

Championship winner – Kurt Busch. It has already been a great year for guys named Busch (Bush), and he presently leads the competition by 18 points. Being in first, he doesn’t even need to win the Homestead race to win the title, so he’s my pick.

The sentimental choices are Jimmie Johnson and four-time champ Jeff Gordon who have endured the tragic Oct. 24 plane crash that killed 10 members of their Hendrick Motor Sports family. They are hot on Busch’s tail, 18 and 21 points behind respectively. But Johnson was once 247 points in the rear, and has now won four of the last five races to emerge as the No. 1 contender.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be only 47 points back instead of 72, if not for being assessed a 25-point penalty for cussing during a live post-race interview. Veteran Mark Martin is 82 behind. They both need miracles to pass the first three in the Chase.

Incidentally, there are those fans who insist on going back to the old format that counted results equally over the entire season. Under the old system the current order would be as follows: 1) Gordon, 2) Johnson, 3) Earnhardt Jr., 4) Busch.

• It’s that time of year for great college football rivalry games, and a few take on added importance this time around.

Auburn vs. Alabama is already a life and death struggle, but Saturday one can throw in the fact that Auburn has a perfect record and is striving for a national championship. Stanford will be trying to eliminate California from national title contention in the Big Game. If Brigham Young somehow knocks off undefeated Utah, the Utes will no longer be in line for a BCS bowl. Michigan has the inside track to a Rose Bowl bid, but to control its destiny must win at rival Ohio State.

Other notable games that are always significant are Florida-Florida State, Oregon-Oregon Sate, Washington-Washington State, South Carolina-Clemson and Tennessee-Vanderbilt. Also, even though handicappers cannot wager on it in local sports books, undefeated Harvard will be taking on Yale.

That’s plenty of serious football going on Saturday, with more rivalry games slated for next week.

• Arguably the most important game this weekend will be the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup championship Sunday at Ottawa. Americans might wonder about the CFL and ask themselves, do Canadians really care about football? Don’t they just like ice hockey? Well, if last weekend is any indication, some Canadians take their football way too seriously.

Last Saturday, Saskatchewan kicker Paul McCallum missed an 18-yard field goal in overtime against British Columbia that cost his team the game. Irate locals proceeded to pelt his house with eggs. While his wife stood there cleaning up the mess, others threatened their property and one even dumped some manure. Yes, many Canadians do sincerely take their football to the extreme.

Grey Cup – The British Columbia Lions are favored by 4 1/2 over the Toronto Argonauts, with a total of 49 1/2. If you have been keeping track, you will have noticed that every CFL playoff game so far has gone Under. Apparently defense wins championships in Canada, too. Might we see another 123-yard field goal return for a touchdown in this game like we did three weeks ago?

Having not seen any CFL games this year makes predicting difficult, but going with the trend, the bet is Under.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at