It wasn’t until Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 that I realized how much this new Chase format may be getting to some drivers and teams.
The tempers boiled between Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth after Kevin Harvick won the race and moved onto the eliminator round of the Chase.
With 63 laps to go on a restart lap, Matt Kenseth had a big run and Keselowski snuck up in front of him which caused Kenseth to smack into the wall. That incident caused Kenseth to drop from fourth to 18th and deeper in the field.
With two laps to go on a restart lap, Keselowski and Hamlin had some contact which caused Keselowski to fall back to 16th place. Hamlin finished ninth.
During the cool down lap, Hamlin admitted in a post-race interview on ABC to “brake checking” right in front of Keselowski. Keselowski then ran into the back of Hamlin’s car. While entering pit road, Keselowski hit Kenseth’s car when Kenseth had undone his safety equipment and hit the back of Tony Stewart’s car. Tony Stewart put his car in reverse and crunched the nose of Keselowski’s car.
That wasn’t the end of it.
Keselowski was headed to his hauler on foot when Kenseth ran up behind Keselowski and grabbed him. Crews from both teams attempted to break up the fight. Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe restrained Kenseth and the parties split up.
NASCAR officials are studying the post-race melee and penalties, if any, will be announced on Tuesday or later in the week.
Was it pressure built up due to where the teams sit in this round in the Chase?
All three of those drivers are in the Chase and are working to get their teams into the next tier of the Chase. As Jeff Gordon said, “This Chase format has created a little bit of drama!”
I believe Gordon’s comment to be true.
At this time last year, we could pretty much figure out who was going to be the top three runners going for the championship. Now, there are 12 drivers with an equal chance to win and get into the eliminator round to keep going in the hunt for a championship.
What’s unique is who the collective audience believes would be the front runners in the Chase are in danger of elimination from the next round: Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 Champion Brad Keselowski, and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Matt Kenseth, who won seven races last year and hasn’t had a win this season, is in danger of not making it to the next level.
I have to admit that the new Chase format created some interest in my office as everyone decided to fill out a “bracket” to see if they could beat me in picking the winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. They’re still not fans of the sport, but it made me happy to see them perk up with enthusiasm when I talked about the post season rather than being met with rolling eyes, blank stares, head nods with “uh-huh”s, and crickets chirping the background.
The fans seem to like the new format because of the uncertainty and the drama.
Personally, I like the new format. I’m intrigued every week to see who will win and get another shot at the Sprint Cup trophy.
I can’t imagine how the teams are feeling behind closed doors with data coming out of their ears with setups, tire wear and strategies rolling around in their heads all week long.
I think the pressure blew on Saturday night with only a few of the many drivers who I feel let it get the better of them.
It won’t get any better this weekend as we will see four more drivers eliminated after this Sunday afternoon’s race. One bad move and it’s over.
The pressure will only build as the next few races go on to determine the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.