The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Says Goodbye To Hollywood

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Says Goodbye To Hollywood
The Sun Sets On The Auto Club Speedway And Its Fall NASCAR Race (Photo Credit: M Brian Ladner)

Not only did the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship say farewell to Fontana for this year, but it also said farewell to the Auto Club Speedway's Fall race for next year, and for the foreseeable future. Like Atlanta before it, ACS will no longer host a Chase race, being replaced by Chicagoland in a shuffling of the final 10 races announced for next year.

Before Sunday this was the tightest the Chase points standings had been since it began, with eight drivers within 101 points of Championship leader Jimmie Johnson. Ten drivers were within 150 points—less than what can be gained in a single race.

The general consensus was that there might be some movement, but with the race being only 400 miles long compared to 500 in the past, nobody expected the number and kind of problems that beset a number of Chase drivers today.

But by the end of the day, only three drivers were within 100 points of Johnson, who had extended his lead over second place Hamlin to 36 points. Two more were within 161 points (the most a driver can gain on another during a race) and three more were less than 200 points out, leaving three drivers now over 200 points behind Johnson in his drive for five.

So, of the drivers in the Chase, they are split evenly in two with the bottom half being those who are now more than one race behind Johnson.

Most of those in the top half of the standings are likely not as happy as those in the bottom half to say goodbye to Southern California—either for this year or for future years as many of them are drivers who have done well here time and time again.

In particular, California son Jimmie Johnson must be one of the least happy to say goodbye to Chase races at ACS. Even though he didn't win his fourth fall race in a row, he did finish third and extend his lead by 28 points over Denny Hamlin.

And Hamlin has to leave here feeling good about having ACS in the Chase as he started from the back of the field after a transmission change sent him there yet he still came through the field, passed Johnson at times, and managed an eighth place finish.

Although Hamlin's average finish here over his career has been an abysmal 17.2 with one DNF coming in last year's fall race after making the mistake of not clearing Juan Pablo Montoya going into turn one on a restart, he did sit on the pole in that race. And his fall finishes have generally been far better here than his finishes in the spring.

Two more drivers who call California home—Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon—managed to mitigate the damage they inflicted upon themselves with pit road speeding violations to come back to salvage seventh- and ninth-place finishes respectively.

And winner Tony Stewart finally crossed this race off his "bucket list" of tracks to visit Victory Lane on Sunday, and pulled 20 points closer to Johnson.

And although not quite as dramatic nor as meaningful for this year's Chase given his position in the standings, Clint Bowyer's finish has to leave him riding away from the sunset with a smile on his face, but wishing he could run 10 Auto Club Speedway races like Sunday's every Chase.

Those mainly in the back half of the standings, however, are most likely more than happy to say goodbye and head on to Charlotte, with some happy not to return as if the Chase depended upon it.

Those more than happy to move on do so with the realization that although the Chase may be saying goodbye to Southern California, these six drivers most likely leave behind their Chase hopes for this year.

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