What will NASCAR fans do now that their favorite drivers are eliminated from Chase?

9 Comments

If you’re a hardcore NASCAR fan, even if your favorite driver won’t advance to the third or fourth and final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there has to be one question burning in your mind regardless:

Now what?

Contrary to what many may have thought, Sunday’s race at Talladega arguably wasn’t the biggest test of the new Chase format at all.

Rather, how the four remaining Chase races play out will be the true benchmark if NASCAR’s new-fangled elimination playoff ultimately plays with the fans as the sanctioning body hoped it would.

Will fans of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne – who accounted for eight wins in the first 32 races – return in front of their TVs or attend in-person the four remaining races in the same fashion as they would have if their favorite drivers were still in the Chase?

Or will the high expectations going into the Chase result in a flop of seismic proportions, with potentially record-low attendance numbers and TV ratings?

After all, even though your favorite now-eliminated driver will be racing in the last four races, realistically, even if he wins a race or two, will it really matter in the whole big scheme of things?

No matter how much fans hope and pray, the highest Johnson, Earnhardt, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle can finish this season is fifth place.

If I’m a Johnson fan who was anticipating him tying the championships won record of Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt this season, really, what do I have to look forward to now?

That JJ will finish fifth for the third time in his career?

Or if you’re a diehard Junior fan, will there be anything left in your personal cheering gas tank? Not only did Earnhardt fall short of advancing into the Eliminator Round, Steve Letarte will leave the team at season’s end without ever earning a championship as a Sprint Cup crew chief.

(Letarte will be joining NBC Sports next season as an analyst for its NASCAR coverage.)

Kahne gave it a great try and had the potential to be a Cinderella story, but he fell short.

Ditto Kyle Busch, whose haters must be jumping for joy right now that – once again – he’ll fail to win a championship.

Yep, doesn’t seem like there’s much to cheer about or look forward to at all.

You could not be more wrong.

In fact, there’s plenty to cheer for and to remain engaged in the four upcoming races.

What about the potential that a driver who has yet to win a race in 2014 – and there are two right now (Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman) – goes on to win the championship without ever reaching Victory Lane?

What about underdogs like Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, who’ve essentially both been flying well under the radar? They have the chance to right some past wrongs.

Hamlin can avenge the 2010 season, when it looked like he’d win it all, only to essentially fall apart in the last three races, allowing Johnson to go on and win his then-fifth championship.

Edwards can essentially have a do-over of 2011, when he tied Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup championship, only to lose by one point on the first tiebreaker (most wins in the season).

Who knows, maybe a non-Chaser will get his chance to shine in the sun. Will Tony Stewart be able to extend his streak of having earned at least one win in each of his 15 Sprint Cup seasons?

What about dark horses like David Gilliland, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and so many others? Don’t they deserve their time in the spotlight?

And just because JJ, Jr. and company won’t be able to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead, how can you – if you’re truly the diehard NASCAR fan you claim to be – not be interested in how the Chase winds up and who emerges as the champ?

Can you look yourself in the mirror and say you don’t care if Brad Keselowski can win his second crown in three years? Can you say you could care less if Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick wins their first?

And can you REALLY say you wouldn’t give a darn if Jeff Gordon, after 13 years of trying, finally wins his fifth Sprint Cup championship.

Sure, your favorite driver may not have a chance to win the title this year, but if you’re really, TRULY a NASCAR fan, you owe it to yourself – and yes, even to your favorite driver, even if he’s been eliminated – to pay attention to how the next four weeks play out.

Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss a heck of a lot still to come in these last four races, not to mention one hell of a championship battle to the end.

30 Seconds to Know: How does the Chase Eliminator round work?

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff

INDYCAR Photo
Leave a comment

During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

RELATED: How is Sabres’ star Jack Eichel staying fit?

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”


Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph adjusting to ‘new normal’ for training

Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”


For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time off inbetween races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500