Nascar’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup has begun! For those of you who missed it, Nascar changed the format of the Chase again (surprise surprise). This time, drivers must go through a series of elimination rounds to win the championship. After every 3 Chase races, the bottom 4 drivers still remaining are eliminated from contention, and everyone else gets a fresh slate of points. This Sunday’s race at Dover was the first elimination race this season. So how did it go? Let’s find out.
The Winner: Jeff Gordon
If you’re not a Kevin Harvick or Jeff Gordon fan, the fight for the this race’s lead was pretty tame. Harvick started from the pole and led for 223 of the first 254 laps before a tire went down on his Chevy, damaging his splitter and knocking him out of contention for the win. After a 60-lap stint at the front by Brad Keselowski, Gordon took the lead from the 2 and led the rest of the way. With no cautions to bunch the field back up, Gordon pulled away from the pack, eventually finishing 5 seconds ahead of Brad. With not much passing going on at the front of the field, most of the action took place at the back of the pack, where the fight to survive this round of the chase was fiercely fought.
Surviving: Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin
Kahne and Hamlin managed to outlast their competitors, winning a war of attrition on the racetrack. While Hamlin made it through to the next round by a relatively comfortable 6 point margin, Kahne finished a lap down, just 2 points ahead of AJ Allmendinger. The battle for the final transfer spot was tight throughout the day, with Kahne, Allmendinger, and Kurt Busch all fighting for 12th place. For a while, it looked as though Kurt would avoid elimination, but an ill-handling car during the final 50 laps sent him sliding backwards and out of the transfer spot. He finished 5 points back of Kahne. Allmendinger, driving for single-car JTG Daugherty Racing, made a valiant effort to secure the final spot after being trapped a lap down early. However, a gamble to stay out longer than Kahne during green flag pit stops in hope of a caution doomed the Dinger. He fell two laps down and could not advance any further in the race. He ended up 2 points back of Kahne.
A Success? Yes
So was Nascar’s first ever elimination race a success? The battle for the final transfer spot was intense, but the drivers weren’t fighting each other for position. Allmendinger, Busch, and Kahne were usually separated by 4 spots and a straightaway on the track. Meanwhile, the race up front was a bit of a snoozefest, with Harvick and then Gordon running away with the lead. Many drivers who had solid days were barely mentioned during the broadcast, as coverage focused on the battle for the final transfer spot. In total, the race was exciting. While the action at the front wasn’t so hot, the battle at the back of the pack kept fans engaged and the race interesting. So far, it looks as though Nascar may have a hit with this new Chase.