Drivers weigh in on changing the Chase, more news and notes

Publish date:

FORT WORTH -- Jimmie Johnson can't help but laugh when he considers how obsessed people have become trying to find a way to revise the Chase as he moves closer to his third-straight championship.

It's almost as if NASCAR is being urged to once again revise the rules just to make sure another driver other than Johnson wins the title in the future.

"At the end of the day, we all know we didn't get off to a good start. And we had to work very hard to be in this position," says Johnson, whose lead over Carl Edwards is 106 points with two races remaining. "We're here and we're proud of it. So, it is interesting to hear the comments, and it makes me laugh that our sport can be susceptible to that whole reality TV buzz that's coming along, and if you don't like it, let's have a fan vote and let's change it. And it seems like it's kind of going that way."

Johnson believes public opinion would have him "voted off the island." But this is racing and the championship is earned on the race track, not through a fan vote of text messaging.

"If nobody likes it, let's just have Sprint run an ad on TV and [fans] can text who they want to qualify on the pole and who they want to win the race and all these crazy things," Johnson said. "I mean it's really crazy. Racing is about earning your points and earning wins. We made an adjustment to the points system a few years back to make it more competitive. What else are we going to change?"

Think about it -- when the Chicago Bulls were winning six NBA championships in the 1990s, the NBA wasn't considering changing the way an NBA champion was decided. Moreover, the best team in the regular season doesn't always win the Super Bowl and the best college basketball team doesn't always make it to the Final Four, just as the best driver during NASCAR's regular season isn't going to win the Chase.

I agree with those who believe the best way to get a proper read on how the Chase plays out is over a five- to seven-year period. If after that time it appears broken, then make the necessary adjustments.

"How do we understand what to change and how to make it better if we can't watch it and look at it for seven years or eight years and see how it's working and really get a good look at how it is working and not working?" asks Dale Earnhardt Jr. "How can we really know what to change and make the right change? We shouldn't keep changing and changing until we stumble on the right spot and the right options and the right ways to have things."

Adds Jeff Burton, "Every time we have a point championship that's not as compelling as one of the greatest, I think we have to caution against making changes. This year's World Series was just won in five games. It was not a seven-game series. Not every championship is going to be a five-point swing or a five-point difference, it's just not.

"And by the way, this one is not over. I mean, I understand it looks like it's an undoable thing for everybody. I mean, how long have ya'll been hanging around this thing? Anything can happen. So let's don't write it off just yet."

Jeff Gordon won four NASCAR Cup titles under the old points system that kept the same points for the entire season and rewarded the driver at the end of the year who had the most points. Gordon has never won a title with the current Chase format but doesn't believe it needs to be changed just because Johnson has found a way to capitalize on the current system.

"Why do you have to tweak it when a guy does good? That's what I don't understand," Gordon said. "I don't think that has anything to do with it. Here's a guy who didn't win the most races and wasn't leading it going into the Chase, and they've outperformed everybody."

Mark Martin has had an outstanding career that dates to 1981, but he never won a championship. He finished second in the championship four times, so he can appreciate the level of success Johnson is enjoying.

"I'm a little ashamed of myself that I didn't know this already, but Jimmie Johnson makes it look so easy that we don't realize that he's not just a lucky guy who gets to drive Chad's car that's the best car on the race track," Martin said. "That's a little bit shallow of me to have thought that. The more I find out about Jimmie Johnson, the more I understand why he is experiencing the success that he does and that's kind of cool.

"Jimmie Johnson is incredibly committed. Jimmie is willing to do whatever it takes to gain an advantage on the competition, whether it's mental or physical or mechanical. I think that's really cool."

After two years of running a limited schedule, Martin will return to his own Chase for the Championship next season when he joins Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports. But even if Martin never wins a Cup championship and Johnson wins three more, Martin believes way too much focus is put on the Chase instead of the Race.

"One of the things that I take some issue with about this whole thing is to me, the points thing has been overplayed for 15 years," Martin said. "It is about the race. It's nothing about points to me. I don't race points. And I still come with every ounce of enthusiasm and I still have some fans out there that pull for me.

"So, I think the fans that go to Homestead are interested in seeing a race in person, honestly. I think the strategy to make more out of the racing series by making the points more important and paying more money and building more momentum and more media has worked; but at the end of the day, to many of us, it's more about the race than it is about the points."

So when Johnson wins his third straight title this season of if he should falter and Edwards wins the championship over the final two races of the year, just leave the Chase alone for a while before making any more changes.

Lewis Hamilton certainly has a flare for the dramatic, even if it is sometimes a little too close for comfort.

That was the case in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix. The 23-year-old, needing only a fifth place finish in the season-ending race to become Britain's first champion since Damon Hill in 1996, was seconds from failure for the second consecutive year.

With championship rival Felipe Massa of Brazil on his way to victory, Hamilton entered the last lap in sixth place after a late shower had forced a change to rain tires. Hamilton's title hopes appeared to be washed away with the rain, but as Massa was heading to the checkered flag, Hamilton passed Timo Glock in the final corner for fifth place.

"Amazing, I can't even get my breath back," said Hamilton, a British native who's now the first black man to win the F1 World Championship. Remember, Hamilton lost last year's title by one point to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in Brazil last season. This year Hamilton defeated Massa by a single point.

At 23 years and 301 days old, Hamilton broke the age record set by former McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who won the first of his two titles with Renault in Brazil at the age of 24, one month and 27 days.

"I feel like any of the other drivers that are out there, that it is a dream for me to get to Formula One," Hamilton said last year. "But what comes with it is that hopefully it can be of some influence, it can encourage other ethnic groups to get involved in the sport. It doesn't have to be just for one group of people, it can be for everyone.

"People that can relate to the path that I've taken will see that it's possible and will try also to get into the sport."

Paul Tracy finished 20th in Friday night's Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas for Germain Motorsports, his first-ever NCTS start. But make no mistake about it, his heart is in a high-speed open-wheel car, even though he may never drive one again.

Tracy was the biggest name left without a ride when the IndyCar Series absorbed what was left of the Champ Car Series in February. Forsythe Racing decided not to join IndyCar and Tracy was unable to participate because he was under contract to the team. And when he was released from that contract, there were no prime IndyCar rides available.

In July he showed he still has the ability to drive an IndyCar when he finished fourth for Vision Racing in the street race at Edmonton. Tracy and team owner Derrick Walker hoped that would be the first step toward a full-time ride for 2009, but with a slumping United States economy, the combination has been unable to find sponsorship.

That has Tracy actually considering the "R word" as in ... retirement.

"Something will shake out," Tracy said. "If it doesn't -- I don't want to retire, but if my career has come to an end I can say that I've achieved everything I've ever want to achieve. It comes to an end sooner or later for everybody. I would like to race another couple of years in IndyCar and maybe some endurance races.

"I proved what I can do at Edmonton, but it's tough now. Because of the economy there are only four teams in IndyCar that are flush with sponsors. It's a long offseason for them, so there is still time for things to happen. I'm talking to some people and we'll see what happens."

When David Gilliland cut down on Juan Pablo Montoya on the backstretch at Texas Motor Speedway, it triggered a vicious crash on lap 263 that ended Montoya's race and got Gilliland parked for the rest of the contest.

After the race, Gilliland was summoned to the NASCAR Transporter, where he was lectured on the incident.

"It's a shame we've got some tore up race cars and we got parked, but I got up in front of him -- my spotter said I was clear -- and I kind of slid up in front of him and he jacked my rear wheels off the ground going down the back straightaway and then got into me again going into turn one and two and jacked me up way up the track," Gilliland said. "I was trying to let him go and got a good run off the corner and just kind of misjudged it coming down across him. I was going to let him go, so I feel real bad for those guys."

Because of the crash, Montoya finished last in the 43-car race.

"I was running high the lap before and he went inside of me," Montoya said. "He ran straight to the wall and I tried to get away. He put me into the wall. So I went into Turn 1 and I punted him just a little bit to say, 'Hey, you're running like 50 laps behind.' I hit him a little bit. If I had wanted to wreck him, I would have wrecked him. He came out and just wrecked us. It's very disappointing. It has been great for everybody at Ganassi; we've got great cars now. It's just frustrating to have that happen.

"It was like he said I'm better than him, so I'm going to wreck him. The decent thing is not doing it, but if I had wrecked him, it would have been fine. It's frustrating when people do things like that."

When Carl Edwards' team decided to make the final 69 laps on one tank of fuel, it was a gamble that paid off with victory. Both Edwards and Jimmie Johnson could not believe that with so much at stake, a driver battling for the title would make such a gamble.

It took a little bit of coaxing from Edwards' crew chief, Bob Osborne, to make sure there was enough left in the tank to get to the checkered flag.

"I've never had Bob yell at me for going too fast, but he did tonight," Edwards said. "I just was so nervous that we were missing something. I thought there was no way we can go this slow, save this much fuel and still be leading the race. Of all the ways you can win a race, fuel mileage isn't the most exciting one. But we had the dominant car all day."

Jeff Gordon remains winless for the season and is closer to not winning at least one race per season since his rookie year in 1993. But he scored a first at Texas Motor Speedway when he won the pole on Friday and would finish second on Sunday.

"We're not going to give up, that's for sure," Gordon said. "I know it's late in the season, we haven't won yet, but that doesn't mean we're laying down. We're certainly not going to do that. It's just like going for the pole on Friday; we're doing everything we possibly can.

"I would be a little bit more excited about our chances if we had run up front and ran in that second position all night or all day. We are going to look at any possible way to win races. We're going to try to make the car go as fast as we can. When we have that opportunity to make it on fuel, you know, we're going to take the opportunity. That's what we did tonight.

"But I'm still disappointed that, you know, we struggled with the handling. I had my hands full. Some of it's me; some of it's the team and the setup. That's something we've got to work on coming back to Texas. But I look forward to the next two opportunities to try to win. Tonight's an obvious sign of we can still win. No matter how the car's running, we can still win. We'll go to the next two and do everything we can to try to win."

"He didn't say that when Matt Kenseth won a championship. We all want to change the rules when the rules don't work for us. When Matt Kenseth won the championship, everybody said it was a boring championship race and I don't remember Jack saying well it was and it wasn't very good. The other team should have been allowed a mulligan because the No. 17 did better than everybody else. The rules are the rules and you have to make them work for you."

-- Jeff Burton in response to his former team owner, Jack Roush, saying NASCAR should give every driver in the Chase a "Mulligan" by throwing out their worst race of the 10.

"I call it hunting, but it's mostly just watching because I'm terrible. I try not to fall asleep in the tree stand. That's bad."

-- Carl Edwards on his hunting ability.

As the NASCAR season winds down, it's off to Phoenix for the next to last race of the season. The track is located in the middle of the desert with cactus trees, rattle snakes and even scorpions, so it's a good idea to watch where you step. But a trip to Phoenix is also a great excuse to eat some "real" Mexican food -- the hotter the better.

And I'm not talking about Taco Bell, either.