Sunday, October 12, 2014

COMMENTARY: After Charlotte Melee, Title Contenders In Dire Straits

It’s as simple as this.

When it’s all over and done Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway, three pre-Chase favorites for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship are likely to find themselves on the outside, looking in.

After crashing their way onto the endangered species list at Kansas Speedway a week ago, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson coughed up blood yet again at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night, finishing 16th, 17 and 20th, respectively. Back-to-back bouts of underachievement are a recipe for disaster in the year’s Chase, where life and death are meted out in three-week increments. And now, three drivers who appeared in millions of pre-Chase “Final Four” brackets are a week away from finding themselves spectators.
When the shifter in Earnhardt’s Diet Mountain Dew Chevy snapped in his hands early Saturday night, it did not necessarily signal the end of his hopes. His Hendrick Motorsports crew made the requisite repairs and pushed their driver back into the fray, but an ill-handling race car never allowed him to make up for lost time. He languished on the “lap down” list for the remainder of the evening and finished 20th.
Unlike Earnhardt, Johnson appeared ready to dig out of his Kansas hole, until pit strategy and a frenetic final restart doomed his hopes yet again. The six-time series champion was fourth when the final caution flew with just seven laps remaining. Crew chief Chad Knaus went for the win instead of the points, calling Johnson to pit road for four fresh tires than left him 10th on the ensuing restart. The Lowes Chevrolet went inexplicably backward at the drop of the green flag, recording a crushing, 17th-place finish that left Johnson 11th in points.
Keselowski was fifth on that final restart, but tangled with fellow-Chaser Denny Hamlin in the first turn. Like Johnson, he plummeted through the field to finish 16th, then expressed his frustration by running into everything but the Pace Car on the cool down lap.
He clipped the rear of Hamlin’s Toyota after the checkered flag, then sideswiped Matt Kenseth as they entered pit road. Either he or Kenseth then caromed into Tony Stewart’s stopped Chevrolet, prompting Stewart to back into Keselowski’s Ford in protest. After a considerable period of pushing, shoving, shouting and gesticulating, the stage is now set for a Talladega finale long on pressure and short on patience.
Kenseth now trails Kasey Kahne by just one point for the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. Keselowski is 19 points out, with both Earnhardt and Johnson a whopping 26 points in arrears. Sunday’s Talladega winner will receive a free pass to the Eliminator Round, but there’s only one Golden Ticket available, and four prime time players in serious need of help. In addition, a number of Chase contenders are decidedly unhappy with each other after a wild CMS finale.
Hamlin blasted Keselowski’s tactics after the race, calling the 2012 champion, “out of control” and “obviously desperate. He just plowed into us,” said Hamlin. “Either four or five of us are wrong or he's wrong, because he's pissed off everyone.”
Kenseth also had angry words for his Penske Racing rival, saying, “I had my HANS (device) and seat belts off and everything. He clobbered me at 50 (mph). If you want to talk about it as a man, do that. But to try and wreck someone on the race track, come down pit road with other cars and people standing around… and drive in the side of me? It's inexcusable. He's a champion (and) he's supposed to know better than that."
For his part, Keselowski said Hamlin “stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don't know what that was all about, and he swung and hit at my car. I figured if we're going to play car wars under yellow and after the race, I'll join, too.

"Those guys can dish it out, but they can't take it,” he said. “I gave it back to them and now they want to fight, so I don't know what's up with that."

For Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt, there is now only one realistic path to salvation. Buckle your chinstrap and tug those seatbelts tight. Ignore the pressure and channel your desperation into a season-saving win at Talladega; the one track in all of NASCAR where virtually anyone can win.
Triumph in the face of extreme adversity, or resign yourself to watching someone else hoist the championship trophy at Homestead Miami Speedway next month.


  1. @smokefan14.bg4:57 PM

    awesome article as always

  2. Could NASCAR penalties against Keselowski be the final nail in the coffin for that team?

    1. Anonymous3:55 PM

      One could only hope. The Penske team is nothing but 2 little rich boys that have no respect for anyone else and blame anyone and everyone but themselves for anything that happens. If multiple drivers are calling for your head...including Matt Kenseth, MAYBE YOU'RE THE PROBLEM, NOT THEM? Hopefully NASCAR will park the 2 for a race, but since they don't have any credibility, they'll probably give him 50 points for keeping ratings up and park Tony for the season.

  3. Anonymous5:53 PM

    "Sunday’s Talladega winner will receive a free pass to the Eliminator Round"

    Yes! Come on, Austin Dillon! #3 IN THE CHASE!

    1. Look up "willfully obtuse" in your dictionary. LOL

  4. Well said my friend, well said.

  5. Anonymous8:17 PM

    Based upon what was on TV and all over the internet NASCAR had better come down hard on Brad. His actions put drivers, race officials, and THE FANS in danger. I hope NASCAR makes an example out of Brad and sits him for the next race.

    Noting the track we are headed to and the dangers associated with it when tempers are even I trust NASCAR will step in and end the situation before someone is seriously injured in the coming race.


  6. Anonymous2:32 AM

    How can you not laugh at Hamlin. Give me a break.

  7. Anonymous7:21 AM

    If Keselowski gets anything less than a suspension with fine and points loss we'll know the NASCAR policy (supposedly) to punish (his) juvenile behaviour which endangers other racers or crew is toothless. NASCAR sat Busch for even less, Keselowski deserves worse.

    The next time anyone calls kyle Busch immature, they should be reminded of what this former 'champion' did.

  8. Anonymous8:45 AM

    You stated on TMD nothing should happen to any of the parties involved and NASCAR should say thank you very much. Really? Which means the next time Busch, or harvick or anyone else endangers another racer or participants nothing should happen? That will sit real well with the sponsors. You were one of many who called for the suspension of Busch when he rammed Hornaday yet you believe this is simply boys have at it? You stated he could lose his Mars sponsorship because of his actions. Now you think the damage Keselowski caused is simply boys have at it?

    I cannot believe you would even go there especially when you've come down hard on Kyle Busch in the past for immature behaviour. It simply shows that some drivers get a pass from the media while others become their fodder for calls into the show.

    Dis Gruntled

    1. You suffer from selective hearing, my friend. I said -- very clearly -- that I would not be surprised to see monetary fines or NASCAR probation based on Saturday night's fireworks, but that I would be surprised to see any point penalties. I have fared pretty well over the years speaking for myself, and if it's alright with you, I would like to continue to do so, without you attempting to tell me what I really mean.

    2. And you might be interested in my latest column on Kyle Busch and his strong 2014 Chase effort. Not bad for a "Kyle hater," huh? ;)

    3. Anonymous1:37 PM

      You clearly said what I wrote, fines comment notwithstanding. That doesn't excuse you as one of the voices of NASCAR radio to not condemn Keselowski for his behavior. Writing a complimentary piece of KB doesn't excuse your indifference either.

      In spite of the fact it too was good.And spot on. Along with finally.

      Thanks for reading

      Still Dis Gruntled

    4. I'm not asking you to excuse me for anything. I'm simply suggesting that you listen more thoroughly in the future, especially to the "notwithstanding" comments that you chose to ignore because they don't fit your argument. You've clearly decided that I am pro-Brad and anti-Kyle, and that's fine, even though both statements are incorrect. I call things like I see them, on a case-by-case basis. I try to be unbiased, consistent and fair, and the vast majority of people seem to respect my efforts. If you don't, that's OK. Thanks for reading.

  9. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I am really disappointed at ABC Good Morning America Host Robin Roberts and her lack of empathy for Tony Stewart during this mess...she and ABC used this as a way to keep the Tony Stewart thing going...Tony was nailed by no fault of his he's supposed to just take it?
    I was sad to see Robin Roberts get sick, like most viewers I prayed for her well being..I wish her no ill will, but I wish she would shut up. Her uninformed opinion does carry some wright.
    In my opinion I was happy to see Tony had the confidence to set the example for his team instead of being a sitting duck. It's disappointing to see her so quickly use this as a way to shine a spotlight on a defenseless Stewart. He was a small part of this deal.

  10. Anonymous10:25 AM

    The Chase is as exciting as expected...when you have Matt Kennseth wanting to give a butt whooping on bad know everything is working as planned. I will not miss DEGA for nothing...I would suspect 43 wide on lap one in turn one.

    Go Matt! Go Tony! Go Jr.! Go.....Brad, I guess....(can't hate a guy for trying)...just watch the pit road stuff, someones gonna get hurt.

  11. In previous years, you sort of knew that most of the drivers would not be in the hunt when they got to Homestead. I think the current format is too fatalistic with some big-money superstars being out of it after Talladega this Sunday. Although I like the concept of the current elimination process, I believe it will undergo some major tweaking in the future, possible using a losers bracket as a way to get back in.

  12. russ - mint hill2:31 PM

    The one thing I like this new chase format is that we don't have to hear (throughout the chase) if the stars are aligned properly this driver can still win the championship. The format gets rid of that.

  13. I did laugh when Brad ran like hell from Tony Stewart after Tony slammed his car.

  14. Anonymous11:54 PM

    too bad for brad &jimmy.jr gets thebig plate cruises to victory otherwise thi whole STUPID new chase is totally for naught