Going into NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship I thought this 6th-edition 12-pack represented the strongest field ever.
I thought the stage was set for the most wide-open title fight in NASCAR history. I thought we’d see goose-bump battles and constant shuffling of the standings.
I thought wrong.
We’re now five races into the 10-race Chase and I’m still waiting for the fireworks.
If some of the bottom-feeders don’t make a major move soon — like, say, this weekend — the Chase could become a three- or four-car contest.
Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin are holding strong and steady. Unless both stumble badly they’re going to be long gone.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart are aggressive drivers with good team support. But after them…?
With the possible exception of Jeff Gordon, I don’t see much of a challenge coming from the rest of the pack. Gordon fell back at the start and now he has to run well down the stretch while hoping that everybody ahead of him flops.
That’s not likely to happen. Johnson and Martin aren’t floppers.
It’s been stunning to see how non-competitive most of the Chasers have been. It’s almost as though they were content just to have made the playoffs, and once in they lifted.
That’s not the case, of course — I know that drivers like Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers are driving their hearts out. But they keep spinning their wheels.
When the playoffs start, it’s a whole new season and time to step it up. So far over half the Chasers haven’t been able to do it. That’s why they’re on the brink of elimination before the halfway point.
At the start of the Chase, a TV pundit predicted that “seven, eight, maybe more” of the 12 Chase racers would go into the season finale at Homestead with a shot at the championship. I agreed. But now NASCAR will be lucky if there are three or four serious contenders heading into Homestead.
Likewise I thought that drivers who failed to make the Chase would turn up the wick. I figured missing the playoffs would light a fire under them. But again, we haven’t seen it.
The non-Chasers seem to be just showing up and punching a time clock, anxious to get the season over with.
Their passiveness is puzzling. You’d think they would be oozing motivation and incentive, trying to salvage something from a dismal season.
It’s not over yet; there’s still enough races left for the back-of-the-pack Chasers to get it in gear and for the non-Chasers to show a little grit and giddy-up.
But the clock is ticking, and for a lot of teams it seems somebody forgot to set the alarm.
Woody is a Nashville sports writer who has covered racing since the early 1970s.