NASCAR’s 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup opens this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, and it won’t be a moment too soon to actually be discussing cars on track and not controversy. We hope, at least.
And while there’s still a great amount of talent distributed among the 12 Chasers, I can’t help but acknowledge what we’re missing out on in the 2013 edition of the Chase, the tenth edition of NASCAR’s 10-race playoffs.
- Defending champion Brad Keselowski. Love him or hate him, Keselowski provided a needed jolt of energy to last year’s Chase as the upstart, brash member of the younger generation threatening the establishment. It all started with the famous “Tweet heard round the world” during the red flag at Daytona, five race wins in the next 35 races, and concluded with downing a huge glass of Miller Lite on live TV. In 2013, it’s been a different story, as inconsistency has plagued the No. 2 Penske Racing team, now racing Fords, from the start.
- And 2011 champion Tony Stewart, a three-time champ. Stewart’s lone media availability since his sprint car accident was a riot, and I only watched it on the live stream via NASCAR.com. I can’t imagine how much more uproarious it was in person. I’ll let a tweet from Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press sum up the lack of “Smoke” in the Chase:
Audio recordings reveal Chase Media day without Smoke is not a complete Chase Media Day. #SmokeWillRise
— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) September 13, 2013
- And four-time champion Jeff Gordon. Sensing a theme, here? Like Keselowski, Gordon didn’t win in the 26 regular season races preceding the Chase, and ultimately, that doomed him more than anything. Still, this marks only the second time in 10 Chases (finished 11th in points in 2005) that Gordon has missed out, and the angst surrounding his absence is felt by a wide range of individuals. We can only hope this wasn’t his last shot.
- Denny Hamlin. This is a new case, because Hamlin has missed out for the first time in his career after seven consecutive appearances in his first seven full seasons. The disclaimer here is that Hamlin, has of course, had a tumultuous season filled with fines, injuries and a general lack of performance. This has to be particularly frustrating given the efforts of teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, who each have a shot at the title for Joe Gibbs Racing.
- A road course. The lack of a road course in the Chase isn’t new – there’s never been one in 10 Chases. Still, it’s another layer of variety that could be added instead of yet another mile-and-a-half 400-miler that would likely be decided after the last Green-White-Checkered. NASCAR has added more road course races to the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series ranks and the action there is some of the best you’ll see all season across any of NASCAR’s three major series. If a rethink of the Chase tracks occurs, I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in suggesting this variable gets added to the equation.
UPDATE, 4:40 p.m. ET: Post-script: Well, so much for Jeff Gordon missing out. He’s just been added to the Chase as a 13th driver. And I don’t know what to think anymore.