Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 10, 2014, 10:23 a.m.
Kevin Harvick’s fine NASCAR resume is notably lacking in a championship, Winston or Sprint, and he has his best chance by far next week when the series visits Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race. Of course, by rule (as referees and umpires are fond of saying), his chance is only one in four. As Harvick is coming off his fourth victory of the season – he is practically an honorary Sun Devil, what with four victories in his last five races at Phoenix International Raceway – many will cast him in the favorite’s role.
The other name that springs to the front is that of Joey Logano, who has two more wins and three more top-five finishes than the presumptive favorite. Neither, however, has particularly distinguished himself at the 1.5-mile track where the title is decided.
That brings us to the two drivers, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, who have, by the wonder of the new NASCAR format, capitalized on the contrived format that now determines the champion. Hamlin has a lone victory. Newman doesn’t. No Cup champion has ever failed to win a race, and the format was ostensibly designed to make such a phenomenon impossible. This claim had already been undermined ever since some pesky compiler ran the 2013 results and determined it would have produced a winless champion.
Perhaps the rationale was surely it can’t happen again! It can. Not only does Newman lack a victory; he’s only finished in the top five four times. Hamlin has seven top fives. Only by the wonder of the Etch a Sketch is it possible to conclude that either has had anything more than a disappointing season, but the aforementioned wonder is the only one that matters. If Jeff Gordon had had such a season and been able, like Newman, to make an unruly pass for 11th place on the final lap, he’d be cast as the favorite right now.
What this format really produces is excitement. Zany excitement. The kind invented by the Marx Brothers. The kind provided by a Final Four that includes both Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey.
That it will be. If Newman wins the championship, he will be Cinderella, and when the fireworks go off, three other cars will turn into pumpkins, and somehow, for the burly Newman, who looks like a high school linebacker, a glass slipper will fit, and someone at NASCAR will point out that, at the end of the day, it is what it is, and many will rejoice at the isness of the itness.
The process is exciting, unjust and gimmicky, which is to say, from NASCAR’s obvious view, perfect.
It’s sort of a shame that all the drivers who managed more than Newman and Hamlin – Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, even Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch – have to compete in the Ford 400. They should be allowed to watch from a mountaintop, impossible in south Florida though it may be (sorry, I’m still thinking Phoenix), and peruse the great works and deeds of those mortal in comparison.
It’s the bravest new world since Aldous Huxley sat down his pen.
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