NASCAR: Part One - The Race For The Chase, What Do The Numbers Say?

L.J. BurgessSenior Writer IAugust 16, 2008

The Sun has changed this week. Did anyone else notice that?

Monday morning there was a rich gold tint in the sunshine and that means harvest time here on the Eastern Shore. The corn trucks and harvesters will be running all day and night very soon.

It's a football sun too, time for High School Football around here and it's a hunter's sun as well. There have been a lot more cars up at Vonnie's with guy's and their kids picking up their hunting licences, maybe some new boots, perhaps checking out a new brand of shotgun shells for dove season. Southern States Co-Op is getting busy with farmers picking up end of the season odds and ends and preparing for grain sales.

It's the harvest sun for NASCAR too. We are three weeks away from seeding NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship and it has been a long season for the top 20 and an even longer season for the bottom 20.

There have been a number of disappointments that would have been difficult to foretell, much less accept, back in February such as Matt Kenseth's struggles, Penske's near shutout and DEI's rapid decline. The Dodge camp has under-whelmed as a whole and give credit to the No.9 for hanging in the top 10.

On the other hand some of my personal predictions have come true with Kyle Busch's success, albeit far exceeding my expectations, David Ragan's steady improvement and Toyota's climb from the bottom thanks to the boys in the JGR engine room.

But I think we all have to admit that the chase contenders look much as we all imagined after Daytona.

This NASCAR season is what I consider an example of it's 'Golden Years' and by that I mean, if you look up and down the standings, there are 15 or 20 potential winning teams week in, week out.

When I was born into the NASCAR cult and as I grew up there were maybe five to seven potential winners every week and single car teams tended to dominate from year to year. Thankfully, that's no longer the case.

I always think back to the 1992 season as the beginning of the 'Golden Age' of NASCAR racing. With four races to go and six drivers still in the hunt for a Winston Cup it didn't get any better until the Chase format arrived. The mix of teams and drivers in that 'chase' were two old school southern warhorses, two sons of legends and two outsiders.

Amazingly, only one persevered as a future Cup threat and he makes his 26th and final attempt for his first NASCAR championship next season. Who'da thunk it!

This year's season comes down to another five contenders, four of whom are easily within striking distance of a championship. The bottom half of the Chaser field is littered with past Champions and veterans to the top 10 in points but not one of them has shown anything extraordinary at any time this far.

I'm a firm believer in 'average start' vs 'average finish' as an indicator of a quality, consistent team that has both a driver and a crew chief working in sync as one.

I'm looking for a close set of numbers in the low, low teens, the car is fast in qualifying...and it stays fast throughout the race, needing only minor adjustments on pit-lane to maintain that speed. That shows that the work back at the shop was well researched and the decisions on the pit-box only enhance the finish not 'save' it.

If your pit is constantly in a frenzy then you did not do your homework back at the shop. This can be the result of many things but the most important of them is communication between the driver and the crew chief in the days leading up to a race.

The chief can have the best of everything but if the driver can't tell him what he needs then all is for naught.

Is the driver too busy? Is he distracted by personal issues? Is the driver fully focused during test day's or concerned about sponsor schedules, family matters, his own CTS team perhaps?

The driver bears responsability for telling his crew chief what he needs in a car. The crew chief is in the shop 24/7/50 on most top teams and the chief sees the cars constructed from sheet metal to a rolling billboard in a matter of days.

If the driver isn't in the shop at least half the week, it will show up in the points come September so...shame on him.

So there's the set-up for my 'Race for the Chase' series. Let's see how an old crap shooter does with Sprint Cup Championship predictions eh?


Part Two - 13th And 12th Places By The Numbers