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Final Four: NASCAR Style

by Frank Santoroski               @seveng1967

NASCAR-8The race day was extended for hours by rain, and the race was shortened by rain. In a Chase that featured allegations of drivers attempting to manipulate the outcome, the one factor that no driver or team can control, the weather, had the final say.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at Phoenix, much to the delight of the fans who waited out six hours of delays to get this race in. For Earnhardt, it was his third win of the season, but in meant very little in the overall picture, having already been eliminated from title contention under the current Chase format.

Joining Junior, on the outside looking in, at the finale at Homestead are Jimmie Johnson (five wins), Matt Kenseth (five wins) and Joey Logano (six wins).

However unfair, or unjust it may seem, there are four drivers who will contend for the Sprint Cup at Homestead and one of them will walk away with the Sprint Cup.

Instead of bashing the system that got these drivers to the stage, I’d like to take a moment to examine each driver and explain why they should, or shouldn’t, win the Sprint Cup.

Martin Truex Jr. (Career Cup Titles: 0, Career Cup wins: 3, 2015 Cup wins:1)

fontana_martin-truex-jrWhy Martin Truex Jr. Should be the Champion: A Cup Championship for Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Motorsports would be a Cinderella story for the ages. Throughout the controversy, bumping, banging, retaliation, sketchy officiating, and utter nonsense that we have seen in the 2015 Chase, Truex has managed to fly under the radar. He has kept his nose clean, putting up consistent finishes each and every Sunday to take him to this point.

His effort has been helped along the way by repeat winners in Chase rounds (Joey Logano) and non-chasers taking race wins (Jimmie Johnson and Dale Jr.), effectively allowing him to stay alive on points. He dodged a major bullet when Brad Keselowski failed to fend off a charging Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps at Texas. Had Brad held on for the win, Truex would have just missed the cut.

The Furniture Row team and their story is highly reminiscent of Alan Kulwicki. In 1992, Kulwicki took the Winston Cup in a final race that saw six drivers mathematically alive for the title. Everybody loves an underdog, and for that reason, Martin Truex Jr, would be a very popular Champion.

Why Martin Truex Jr. Should Not be the Champion: As improved as this little team is, they do not have the resources to seriously contend, without a bunch of help. And by help, I mean adversity falling on their competitors.

I like to think of a Champion as one who dominated a number of race events and bested the field on numerous occasions, not as one who kept their nose clean and flew under the radar.

Matt Kenseth won the Championship in that very fashion in 2003, which ultimately led to the Chase format.

Kyle Busch (Career Cup Titles: 0, Career Cup Wins:33, 2015 wins: 4)

500 Feb 14Why Kyle Busch Should be the Champion: As I’ve stated on record many times, Kyle Busch has more pure driving talent in his little finger than a lot of guys earning a paycheck in racing. The guy is just a tremendous wheelman, period.

Throw in the fact that the entire Joe Gibbs organization has been spot-on all year.

In prior years his youth, immaturity, and brash ego have turned a lot of people off on Kyle Busch. Suffice to say, a “Most Popular Driver” award is nowhere in Kyle’s future. At the same time, the 2015 version of Kyle Busch is a very different person than we are used to. He’s calmer, quieter, more focused, and a good team player.

One of the most prolific winners in NASCAR, with 153 victories in the three major series, he has never been able to close the deal. Busch has started strong in the past, and fizzled out when it mattered most, at season’s end.

Perhaps the fact that he sat out the first eleven weeks of the season, recovering from leg injuries, will play to his advantage and he will finally win the Sprint Cup.

Why Kyle Busch Should Not be the Champion: While Kyle Busch certainly went on a tear this summer, winning four Cup races in five weeks, the fact remains that he finished the season 25th in points. It’s hard to wrap my mind calling a driver the season champion when he missed nearly one-third of the races.

A Kyle Busch championship would be a public relations nightmare for NASCAR who has already alienated many of their fans with the new Chase format. Having a champion as unpopular with fans as Kyle Bush is only adds fuel to the fire.

Combine this with the fact that there is a certain segment of NASCAR’s hard-core fans that just don’t want to see Toyota win a Championship in a series that they see as uniquely American. Forget the fact that Toyota, like Chevrolet and Ford, is truly a multi-national conglomerate, and the Toyota Camry is actually built in Georgetown, Kentucky: you will still hear the word ‘rice-burner’ to refer to these cars among some of NASCAR’s loyalest fans.

Jeff Gordon (Career Cup Titles: 4, Career Cup wins: 93, 2015 Cup Wins: 1)

 Why Jeff Gordon Should be the Champion: With 2015 being his final season of competition in the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon has an amazing career behind him. Over the course of his 23-year career we have seen Gordon transform from the brash, young ‘Boy Wonder’ to the smart, calculating elder statesman for the sport.

In his early years, he had as many detractors as he had fans, and he was sometimes the subject of ridicule or the butt of a joke. Comedian Tim Wilson would cause a laugh riot in Comedy Clubs with his song called, “Jeff Gordon’s Gay.”

Along the way, he just kept winning races and championships. Over the years he became synonymous with NASCAR, and it will be hard to imagine the sport without him.

Some drivers, including legends like Richard Petty and A.J. Foyt, drove for a few more years than the needed to and it was painful to watch these fine champions languishing in the back of the field in their later years. With Gordon walking away from the sport while he is truly competitive, there is no chance of that happening. Instead, he joins a select class of drivers who retired while still capable of winning on any given Sunday like Rick Mears, Jackie Stewart or Bobby Unser.

To bookend his career with the Sprint Cup would put the icing on the cake of a legacy that is already cemented.

Why Jeff Gordon Should Not be the Champion: Gordon got lucky at Martinsville and snuck into the finale. Benefiting from the bad-blood between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth, Jeff had a win drop into his lap when Logano was put into the wall.

Sure Gordon has been good this season, but not as good as some of the guys that were eliminated. A Jeff Gordon title would be more about the Chase format and its loopholes than about Jeff Gordon and a hard fought season.

Kevin Harvick (Career Cup Titles:1, Career Cup Wins: 31, 2015 Cup Wins: 3)

ts-400Why Kevin Harvick Should be the Champion: Kevin Harvick is the defending series champion because he played the chase game to perfection in 2014, and capped off his season with a win in the finale. In 2015, Harvick, and his Stewart-Haas Team, have been serious contenders each and every race weekend.

While the win total is a bit lower than last year, what we are seeing is a true championship-caliper team with a true championship driver. Going in to Homestead as the top seed, Harvick realistically deserves this title more than the other three.

Why Kevin Harvick Should Not be the Champion:  The smart money is indeed on Harvick to win it all. The problem with this years’ Chase is that the smart money hasn’t always paid off. In fact, if you were a gambling man, picking the favorites in the Chase, you’d be pretty broke right now.

Then there is the fact that Harvick triggered a multi-car crash at Talladega which ensured a yellow finish and kept him alive in the Chase. Some cried foul, others called him brilliant, and some thought it was luck. Either way, it definitely had a manipulating effect on the Chase outcome. NASCAR’s lack of action raised a lot of eyebrows, and did nothing to win fans over to the Chase Format.

I like Harvick, but I also like to see a Championship won fair and square. That Talladega incident just left a sour taste with me, and nothing that Harvick’s wife posts on Twitter will change my mind.

Well, there you have it folks. I invite you to add your arguments for and against the four drivers in the comments section.

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One comment

  1. I LOVE NASCAR, IT’S SO EXCITING TO WATCH AND SEE WHO WINS. I MISS DALE ERNHARDT SR. HE WAS THE MAN WHO ALL THE DRIVERS HAD A TWITCH OF FEAR WHEN THEY SAW THE INTIMIDADOR RIGHT ON THEIR BUMPER. NASCAR LOST A GREAT MAN AND DRIVER. HE IS MISSED SO MUCH!

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