A bit of semantics, of all things, broke out during Brad Keselowski’s news conference after he won the NASCAR race at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
Keselowski noted the “irony” that Matt Kenseth, who a week earlier had put Keselowski in a headlock in a post-race scuffle at Charlotte, was right behind Keselowski’s Ford as it crossed the finish line at Talladega.
“You probably have a better word for it than that,” Keselowski said. When a reporter suggested it more accurately was a “coincidence,” Keselowski replied, “It’s a coincidence, OK.”
Keselowski had to win at Talladega to advance to the next round of NASCAR’s newly revised, knockout-style Chase for the Sprint Cup title playoff. That’s because he was too low in the point standings to move on.
Eight drivers are left in the Chase with four races remaining at Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. Four more drivers will be cut after the race in Phoenix on Nov. 9, with the final four battling for the championship at the Nov. 16 finale in Florida.
The new Chase format is supposed to put an emphasis on winning, and the Chase was created in the first place a decade ago because Kenseth won the title in 2003 after he won only one race that season.
Winning a Chase race enables a driver to automatically advance to the next round, as Keselowski did. But the others advance based on how high they are in points.
So here’s a bit of irony that’s emerging. As Carol Einarsson of the website Race Journal Online adroitly noted after the Talladega race, Kenseth could still win the title and he’s yet to win a race this year.
The same goes for winless Ryan Newman because he’s third in the point standings. Kenseth is fifth in points. So it’s possible one or both could be among the final four at Homestead-Miami without a victory this season.
What would that say about NASCAR’s push to have a Chase that rewards winning?
Meanwhile, the four drivers eliminated Sunday included the popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, teammates who have each won three times this season.
That sparked considerable umbrage in the media, both conventional and social, that Earnhardt and Johnson were out of the playoff while nonwinners Kenseth and Newman remained in.
But if NASCAR’s goal with the revised Chase was to generate the same postseason uncertainty and drama seen in other major sports, it succeeded.
Just ask the Dodgers, who won the National League West this year, and the Angels, who had the best record in baseball. Their regular-season records meant nothing when both were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
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