Five things NASCAR’s 2013 Chase is missing

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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:
  • 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.

UPDATE 2: INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama once again under red-flag race stoppage

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UPDATE No. 2: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was closing in on restarting on Lap 23 or 24 before officials threw the second red flag race stoppage because of lingering puddles on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, particularly on the front stretch. We’ll keep you updated as situations warrant.

UPDATE No. 1: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is under a red-flag race stoppage after 19 laps due to rain and puddling on the racing surface at Barber Motorsports Park.

Cleaners and dryers are on the track to try and get some of the water off the racing surface. The low spots on the track, as well as the front stretch, have been particularly troublesome and led to several spinouts and at least two wrecks (Charlie Kimball and outside front pole sitter Will Power).

Power’s day is done after suffering irreparable damage to the left side of his car after hydroplaning on the front straight and running into the inside retaining wall.

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS:

Although rain has been falling for nearly an hour and the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course is drenched, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is underway on NBCSN.

The start of the race was moved up from 3:38 p.m. ET to take the green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.

Josef Newgarden is the defending winner of this race and also will start from the pole for today’s race.

While the race is scheduled for 90 laps, there’s a possibility that if the weather worsens or if lightning appears, it could potentially be shortened to just two hours.

As can be expected, all cars are on rain tires to maximize grip.

Catch the race live on NBCSN.