Since its inception in 2004, there has been a debate in NASCAR over the use of the Chase format to determine the Cup series champion.
Whether one likes the format or not, there is no doubt it produces a variety of storylines and interest leading up to and during the 10-race championship run.
Sometimes, however, those storylines – while interesting at the time – largely end up factoring little into the actual outcome of the title battle.
Remember the way Jeremy Mayfield won his way into the Chase in dramatic fashion? Or how about Brian Vickers’ stellar performance to earn Red Bull Racing its first Chase appearance? Both generated a lot of initial interest, but both drivers ended up drifting out of the title picture shortly thereafter.
This weekend’s race at Richmond, Va., has the makings of yet another epic storyline. One of the biggest stories of the season will develop after the checkered flag waves Saturday night – the story of who doesn’t make the Chase.
And while who makes it and who doesn’t has always generated interest, this year’s list of those left out might include the largest number of the sport’s stars yet.
Because of injuries, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are out of this year’s championship picture and both have played significant roles in title outcomes during recent seasons. Others who possibly could miss the Chase include reigning series champion Brad Keselowski and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.
At the start of this year, who could have fathomed a championship battle without the likes of Keselowski, Gordon, Stewart and Hamlin?
With the possibility of such an impressive laundry list of those left out, will this year’s Chase become more known for who isn’t in it rather than who is?
The No.14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and the No.55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota could make history by earning a spot in the owners’ Chase while neither of their drivers makes the Chase.
With one win apiece, a victory at Richmond would guarantee at least a wild-card spot in the owners’ Chase. Mark Martin is substituting for Stewart in the No.14 and Vickers will drive the No.55.
“I am feeling a lot better, but I don’t want to put the race team in any compromising position this weekend,” said Labonte. “It just makes more sense to focus on my rehab one more week to ensure that I’m ready to go at (Chicagoland Speedway) with no issues.”
Hornaday, 55, will make his 337thstart Sunday at Iowa, eclipsing the mark he shares with Rick Crawford.
A four-time champion, Hornaday holds series records for championships, wins (51), top-fives (151), top-10s (221) and most consecutive years with a pole (seven).
Ryan finished 42ndtwo weeks ago at Bristol, Tenn., following an early accident.