The Chase

Sep 17, 2004

The chase for the NASCAR championship gets under way this weekend. The sport that goes around and around enters the playoffs for the first time in a test of skill and consistency.

Before things get started, I thought I’d take a shot at guessing the win, place, and show positions at the end of the year. Much to my delight, this list happens to coincide exactly with my current list of favorite drivers. Now, they just need to deliver.

1. Jeff Gordon

Gordon remains, along with Dale Earnheart Jr., the most exciting driver on the track week in and week out. The fact that he led the regular season point standings — and, by virtue of that fact, also leads the playoff standings — makes him the favorite to win it all. It also helps that he has four other championships under his belt. I’m voting for Gordon, who has been my favorite driver since I took interest in the sport.

2. Dale Earnheart Jr.

Dale, my wife’s favorite driver, has had an interesting year. He led the point standings a majority of the year, displaying a level of consistency that he hadn’t matched to this point in his career. Then a near tragedy happened. He found himself in the middle of a non-NASCAR race trapped in a Corvette enveloped by flames. His Sundays became a struggle that forced him to the sideline for a large portion of each race. The sideline was an uncomfortable place, a place where he could only watch as his position in the standings sank. The good news: he’s all better. He showed as much by winning both the Busch and NEXTEL Bristol races a little while ago. He’ll be in the mix in the end. There’s no doubt in my mind.

3. Jimmy Johnson

I became a fan of Jimmy’s for two reasons. One, Gordon owns his car. Two, I needed someone to root for when Gordon was knocked out of a race. I’ve been a fan of his since he was a rookie and he’s surprised me. I didn’t expect him to be so good, contenting for the championship not only this year but in the years past. This year might be the year he finally breaks through, beating his boss at his own game.

?. Mark Martin

I don’t know if Mark really has a chance, but he’s the sentimental favorite for both a majority of fans and myself alike. He’s an old-timer, someone who represents what the sport is really all about. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a nice guy. I’m glad someone with grey hair made it into the mix.

I promise to revisit these predictions, good or bad, at the end of the season. I should note that I’m not going out on a limb here. These guys currently lead the standings, albeit by a very small margin. But with the small margin of error afforded these drivers in the coming weeks, nobody has a real clue how things will turn out. That’s almost exactly what NASCAR had planned.

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