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Sunday, September 13, 2009

NASCAR Race to the Chase

Could it be that I actually slept better last night, after watching the satisfying conclusion of NASCAR's race to the chase at Richmond?

A good outcome

Except for a few glitches, the outcome of the race was very satisfying.

My own personal satisfaction

Ryan Newman overcame immense obstacles to make the Chase. I have chronicled some of them in this blog. I predicted he would accomplish his goal to make the chase early in the year. I never gave up, because he never gave up.

Over the course of this season I have heard Ryan's voice on the radio exhibit frustration and anger, that accompanies falling short, being victimized by Lady Luck, or a bad-handling race car, or making an uncharacteristic mistake.

I've heard him sound defeated, exhausted, and sickened.

But I've heard the exhilaration and hope that comes from a job well done. I've seen him place in the top 10 with a car capable of running no better than the 20th spot.

It was quite satisfying -- to hear the sound of Ryan's voice following the Richmond race, the happy banter between he and Crew Chief Tony Gibson as the last lap pass that put Ryan into 10th place in the race.

There was no doubt that this race was adrenalin-driven, perhaps even more so than usual. That translated to the fans. Not only was there a race to watch, but for me, it was also the numbers element. I watched the performance of each of the drivers around the latter end of the top 12 on the leader board.

I didn't see qualifying, but when I learned that Ryan was to start 21st, I was nervous. It was said that he'd have to finish 16th to remain in the chase. But as I watched, I realized that figure was meaningless. It failed to take the other drivers' performance into account. I soon realized this would not be as difficult as predicted.

Other goals were achieved

Denny Hamlin won his first race at his home town track.

Tony Stewart accomplished greatness, both as a team owner and driver this year. Not only did he win the points battle overall, but both of his cars made the chase in Stewart-Haas Racing's first season.

Mark Martin had a great night -- and a great season. He is genuine when he says this is the best season of his career. He has worked very hard and done very well.

Juan Pablo Montoya accomplished his 3-year goal.

Brian Vickers worked his butt off to make the chase this year. And he did it, by just 8 points.

Not everyone had a good night

It was not a satisfying race for Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch.

Matt Kenseth had no preconceived notions about this race. His team had not been performing well all season. While he had a few good runs, he had more that were not. He is a past champion and certainly championship caliber. So, he knows what he has to do in the future.

Kyle Busch was a gentleman about his near miss. He finished eight points out. That fact paled in comparison to the good run he had that caused him to finish in the top five. I admit being surprised by his reaction. The Kyle Busch we saw a few months ago would not have been so genial about his loss. This was good to see.

Will the Sprint Cup Champion be the Best of the Best?

It is entirely possible that the new champion may be one who has not won a race. So the burning question that must be asked, however: With four wins this season, why isn't Kyle Busch in contention for the Sprint Cup Championship? There are those who believe that the championship should be based on wins, not some arbitrary points system.

This debate will likely rage on just as it did in 2003 when Kenseth became the Champion with one win while Ryan Newman won eight races.