First off -- congrats to Jimmie Johnson for his win today at Texas Motor Speedway. But to the point:
Yep. NASCAR's worst nightmare just might come true. After all that work to reconfigure the Chase into something that would excite the fans and give them a perfect Champion, we may just get a Champ who hasn't won a race all year -- Ryan Newman.
The new Chase format is supposed to reward, and hopefully require, the eventual Champion to win races. But Newman's arrived near the top by being consistently in the top ten race after race. With everyone else having an up and down Chase, Newman's level but unwinning performance has him mathematically in position to drive away with the trophy.
The idea for the Chase came about after years of drivers getting so far out in front in points during the season that they seemed to be driving the last couple of races with their arms out the window and a cup of coffee in their hand. One tweak after another has led to this year's format -- a series of elimination rounds that have produced some fireworks and desperate driving. But not the "win to win" situation they desperately hoped for to energize their fan base, bring them back to the tracks and bring in new fans as well.
In 2011 NASCAR got the magical finish they could only dream of. Tony Stewart got hot at the end of the season, won races in the Chase and basically drove the wheels off his car, willing himself to the Championship. It was perfect, but one of those lightning in a bottle moments. You simply can't legislate that kind of magic. Though they tried with the new format.
I like Newman. I was sorry to see him leave SHR, but I'm glad he's doing well at RCR. I'll be happy to see him as a Champion, but to win the title without actually winning a race at some point takes the shine off the trophy a bit for me. I'm sure it won't for him, but the endless talk about it will kind of ruin it for him. And that sucks. He should be able to enjoy the ultimate victory in his sport.
Here's hoping he wins at either Phoenix or Homestead.