Cory Mccartney
Thursday September 9th, 2010

1. When NASCAR expanded the Chase field in 2007, it was with the intention of creating more drama. The rationale? If 10 was good, then the fight for 12 spots must be better.

With chairman Brian France discussing more possible tweaks to the playoff this summer, there has been growing suspicion that the number of entrants for the 10-race hunt could rise from 12 drivers to 15. It couldn't be a worse idea -- and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

"I have got mixed feelings about expanding it to 15," team owner Rick Hendrick said last weekend. "If you expand it to 15, somebody is going to want to go to 18."

A bigger Chase field, at least this year, would increase that all-so-vital drama over the final races before the Chase. A virtually insurmountable 117 points separates Clint Bowyer (12th) and Ryan Newman (13th) for the final Chase spot, but the gap between 15th and 19th is 72 points, meaning four drivers would head to Richmond competing for one final spot. But what would really come out of manufacturing this theater?

Thirty-one teams have run a full Cup schedule this season, a number that would be pushed to 32 if Brian Vickers would have been healthy. Of those 32 teams, 37.5 percent will make the postseason, a number that would be increased to nearly half the field should the Chase get bigger, and how many of those lower-tier teams would actually have a legitimate shot at the title?

In the three Chases since the field was expanded, an 11th or 12th seed hasn't won a title, and only once did one make a dramatic push in the final standings as Bowyer rose from 12th to third in '07. You have to go back to the first Chase, when Kurt Busch rose from seventh to get the win, to find anyone outside the top three qualifying spots who went on to grab the title.

Watering down the product with more teams may draw viewers to the likes of Atlanta and Richmond, but once the Chase begins, it would only feel like NASCAR is trying to parade around the most popular drivers, even if they don't have a legitimate chance at winning.

2. It appears that Max Papis has a new level of credibility in the garage.

Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, I saw Papis come out of Jimmie Johnson's hauler, and while I was waiting outside the No. 29 trailer to film an Inside The Helmet piece with Kevin Harvick, Papis was in the back chatting up the points leader. Word is Papis was giving out advice on road-course driving.

It seems a little surreal considering Papis's Cup season has included 11 DNFs and one lead-lap finish. But there he was having his brain picked by two of the leading contenders for the Cup title. Remember, Papis was impressive in the Nationwide race at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and Harvick and J.J. could use some improvement as each has one career road-course win.

Of course, Papis likely has a motive of his own in sharing his thoughts on tracks that aren't part of the upcoming 10-race Chase that Harvick and Johnson are prepping for. Papis recently converted to driving full time in the trucks, and without a proven winner at Germain Racing to glean information from, he can't be faulted for working the garage to try to salvage his own career.

3. Bruton Smith has a point, it's just that his delivery was way, way off.

The Speedway Motorsports, Inc., owner said of NASCAR's tradition of ending the Cup schedule at Homestead, "If you're going to do a championship, you've got to do it at the proper place, and I don't think north Cuba is the proper place."

Smith says he'd rather the series end in Atlanta or Las Vegas, two of the nine tracks Speedway Motorsports owns, a list that doesn't include Homestead.

It's all more than a little self-serving, but I agree with Smith that Miami shouldn't host the season finale. Wouldn't the series be better served to be awarding its championship trophy at one of its more storied locations like Charlotte, Daytona or Talladega? Why schedule such a pivotal race at a location that seems ambivalent to the sport?

It's just too bad Smith couldn't have made that point without coming off as xenophobic. Instead the focus is on his comments and not the message. Of course, NASCAR's master promoter has managed to make headlines that have me writing this, so maybe he is getting his point across.

13: Sunday's win at Atlanta was the 13th of Tony Stewart's career after Sept. 1

3: Number of seasons Stewart has had three or more post-Sept. 1 wins

7: Stewart's average points finish in those years

Kyle Busch. His Joe Gibbs teammates Denny Hamlin (blown engine) and Joey Logano (27th) struggled in the ATL, but Busch avoided those problems by posting his fourth top 10 in six races. He'll have plenty of momentum going into a track he's dominated with a series' best 5.5 average finish, including two wins.

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