First of all, I apologize for this column not coming in on the usual Monday morning posting, mainly due to the fact the race was delayed…delayed…and delayed even more. This is the worst part about Mother Nature, she has no set schedule and at any time she can decide to ruin something.
The lone advantage this weekend compared to others this season, the track where she tried to rain on the parade, it was equipped with lights.
So rather than delay for hours upon hours, only to get postponed to Monday, the race would go on, just instead of being under cloudy skies in the desert, it would be lit up for the first night race at the track in years.
Yet ironically in the end, Mother Nature once again would win out, this time ending the race 93 laps short of the scheduled distance. Your winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. But more importantly, at the end of the rain-shortened night, the Eliminator 8 was officially reduced to the Championship 4.
We all knew one of the spots was locked up, that being due to Jeff Gordon winning at Martinsville two weeks ago. He is now entering the season finale with a chance to end his final season, his final run at the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet, in the most poetic way possible, as a champion. He has four titles to his credit, however he has not won in the Chase format, no matter how it was set up. Whether it was 10 drivers, 12 drivers, wild cards, wins accounting for points, or the current grid format, he never accomplished a Chase title. He wants that, so he can be one of only two drivers to say they won a title in both the old and the new format.
So, for the other three spots, we first have the defending champion. Kevin Harvick, the guy who had the start of the year be one that seemed to be unreal, finishing first or second seemingly every week.
He fell off during part of the year, but kept digging, and made it through each round, although one of them being based on controversy. Now, he has a chance to be the first back-to-back champion since Jimmie Johnson, who backed it up to the point of winning five straight titles.
Third on the list, Martin Truex Jr, who drives for Furniture Row Racing.
This single-car operation has been in existence for many seasons, and enters its final race representing Chevrolet as come next season, this team will swap to Toyota. This small organization based in Denver, Colorado, miles and two time zones away from where NASCAR normally is based, has beaten the odds. It finally scored its long-awaited win since signing Martin Truex Jr. It has a Southern 500 to its credit, thanks to Regan Smith back in 2011, but no one in the garage was unhappy when this young man won at Pocono, congratulating him on finally working his way back after having the 2013 debacle with Michael Waltrip Racing nearly cost his career.
Now the small operation has the chance to take home the largest prize in this sport.
Finally, a driver no one ever expected to be in the Chase, much less in this position. He was out for 11 weeks, sitting at home in a wheelchair, with a broken leg, a broken foot, and a wife expecting their first child. He was forced to the sidelines when a wreck a day before the season’s biggest race took him out.
NASCAR said when he returned, he had to meet two requirements. A-win at least one race, and B-make the top-30 in points.
Not only did he win, he did so often. He won four races in a matter of five weeks. He was locked into the title picture even after missing nearly half the regular season. Sure some will think that it’s a tainted title if Kyle Busch does win it, but it honestly could be more impressive if he does. He had all the odds against him, and yet he could still be champion. It could be time to get a little bit “Rowdy.”
Next week’s race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway comes down to 400 miles, 267 laps around the track. The four drivers mentioned above are all reset to 5000 points. There’s no seeding, no positions 1-4. Those will come at the end of the race.
Sunday’s race, leading a lap…means nothing. Leading the most laps…doesn’t matter. Cars passed on the track…no one cares.
When that checkered flag flies, the first driver of the Championship 4, whether it’s the Furniture Row Chevy, the M&M’s Toyota, the Budweiser Chevy, or the silver Axalta Chevy, will be the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.
Tune in at 1:30 p.m. on NBC to find out who will hoist the checkered flag trophy.
Author Note: I, along with everyone at Gant Daily and all around the globe, send out my deepest sympathies to those in Paris, France, after the devastating attacks that took away many innocent lives, and left hundreds more wounded, both physically and emotionally. We stand with you.
RESULTS: 1-Earnhardt Jr. 2-Harvick 3-Logano 4-Kyle Busch 5-Johnson 6-Gordon 7-Kurt Busch 8-Hamlin 9-Keselowski 10-Almirola
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Edwards 14-Truex Jr. 19-Jones 27-Stewart
CAUTIONS: 2 for 29 laps. 42-47 (Competition); 197-219 (#32 Accident-T3).
LEAD CHANGES: 8 among 7 drivers. Johnson 1-44, Harvick 45-118, Ky. Busch 119, Keselowski 120-123, Ragan 124, Harvick 125-193, Earnhardt Jr 194, J. Gordon 195-198, Earnhardt Jr 199-219.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 3 Mins, 22 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 106.512 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution
CHASE GRID: Championship 4 (All with 5000 points)-Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr; 5. Edwards, -2666; 6. Logano, -2681; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -2694; 8. Keselowski, -2696; 9. Kurt Busch, -2703; 10. Hamlin, -2707; 11. Newman, -2714; 12. Johnson, -2720; 13. McMurray, -2736; 14. Menard, -2761; 15. Kenseth, -2803; 16. Bowyer, -2826.