How would fans react to a Chase without Dale Jr., Johnson, and Keselowski?

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Regardless of what happens in next weekend’s Contender Round finale at Talladega Superspeedway, there will be good stories among the remaining eight competitors in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Whoever they may be.

But how many people won’t bother to see these stories develop if three of the Chase’s biggest names – Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jimmie Johnson – all fail to make the cut at ‘Dega and fall out of the championship picture?

The diehards will stick around. But one could argue this new Chase wasn’t crafted for them.

No, this new Chase was made for the mainstream – or rather, a return to it after the sport’s white-hot run in the early 2000s fizzled out.

But in order to get Mr. and Mrs. Casual Fan to be interested, you need hooks. You need star power. NASCAR certainly has that. It’s largely how it became America’s No. 1 motorsport in the first place.

Keselowski, Earnhardt, and Johnson represents a major portion of the star power in this year’s Chase. But all three of them have suffered through two sub-par races in the Contender Round, and all three of them are now in the soup.

They are occupying the bottom three spots of the Chase Grid: Keselowski in 10th, 19 points behind eighth-place Kasey Kahne; Johnson in 11th, 26 points back; and Earnhardt in 12th, also 26 points arrears.

Only a victory in the GEICO 500 at ‘Dega may be enough to save them. And if they can’t get one, they’ll likely be done.

In turn, their elimination may have an adverse effect on the Chase’s standing on the American sports scene, which is currently crowded with the NFL, college football, post-season baseball, and hockey. Oh yeah, the NBA’s around the corner, too.

Take Keselowski, Earnhardt, and Johnson out of the Chase and there’s probably one driver left with a strong link to the mainstream.

Jeff Gordon’s “Drive For Five” has become a compelling story again thanks to his renaissance this year. But even if he advances to the Eliminator Round, that story may not be enough on its own to draw a sizable amount of attention beyond the base and counter fans of Keselowski, Earnhardt and Johnson possibly tuning out en masse.

(Side note: This is where Tony Stewart and his army of fans would be a big help. But Stewart did not make the Chase, and to be blunt, he has more important things to worry about right now. Danica Patrick? That would be surefire, but while she’s improved in 2014, she’s not Chase material yet.)

And if the fans of Kes, JJ and Jr. ultimately do tune out because their drivers moved out instead of moved on, it could wind up being a loss for those fans if they truly appreciate the overall sport as well. Again, good stories will still be found no matter what.

For instance, take Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, the two drivers that have advanced to the Eliminator Round via wins: Logano, the boy that’s grown up into a world-beater with Team Penske, and Harvick, the wily veteran seeking his first title after leaving the lone Sprint Cup team he’d ever known.

Or what about Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth possibly entering the Eliminator Round with no wins? Considering the emphasis that the new Chase has put on victories, wouldn’t that be interesting?

Still, the negative impact of Keselowski, Earnhardt and Johnson all being eliminated would not be denied. Time will tell if such a situation comes to pass.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.