Would a Jeff Gordon Sprint Cup Championship Save This Flawed NASCAR Chase?

Joe Menzer@@OneMenzFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2015

Jeff Gordon celebrates his latest win with his family.
Jeff Gordon celebrates his latest win with his family.Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

Don't worry, folks. Jeff Gordon is coming to the rescue in this screwed-up 2015 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

No matter how you slice it or which sides of the various controversies that have cropped up you come down on, there is no doubt that this Chase is seriously flawed.

You've had the leader in regular-season race wins taken out of it by a driver who already had secured advancement into the next round; and now you've had Matt Kenseth, the driver previously taken out, suspended for two races for deliberately wrecking the Chaser who first wrecked him, Joey Logano, in retaliation, possibly ruining Logano's title hopes.

Kenseth has appealed and NASCAR has expedited the appeals process, with the hearing this Thursday. The bottom line is that whether it's upheld or not, Kenseth likely will be back on the track for the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This begs the question: If you're going to commit to suspending the guy, why not just put him out of his misery and keep him out of the way for the upcoming championship battle by simply ruling him out for the rest of the season?

In between the Kenseth-Logano dust-ups, you had the defending Cup champion, Kevin Harvick, appear to intentionally cause a wreck so a caution would come out and he could continue to defend his title. The collateral damage in that move included the elimination of several other possible Chase contenders, including none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in the sport.

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The only good news about all the crazy controversies is that it has distracted race fans from another sobering reality: The actual racing in this Chase hasn't been very good. In fact, for the most part it's stunk.

This is where Gordon comes in to save the day (or at least this Chase, and by turn this entire season).

Logano was leading at Martinsville last Sunday when Kenseth, nine laps down, obviously ran him over with deliberate intent. Although Kenseth offered up some lame excuse afterward, saying something was wrong with his car and "it wouldn't turn," he never actually denied the crime and probably even expected to do some time for it.

What does he care? He's already out of the Chase.

Gordon, on the other hand, is not.

He was the great beneficiary of Kenseth's diabolical plan to get even with Logano. As Kenseth took out Logano, the race leader and one of the obvious favorites to win this year's championship, it was like the Red Sea parting for Gordon at Martinsville.

The four-time Cup champion not only surged into the lead, but by virtue of hanging onto it for the win became the first driver locked into the Championship 4 who will battle for the title in the one-race duel at Homestead.

Gordon, 44, announced prior to this season that this would be his final season racing for a championship.

Bottom line, this is Gordon's last chance in what was billed as "The Drive For Five" after he won his last championship, and fourth overall, way back in 2001. The win at Martinsville, his first of this season that has been full of more than its shares of struggles for Gordon and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, sets up NASCAR for a season finale to remember at Homestead in three weeks.

The Disney-like feel to all of this has not been lost on Gordon.

"I cannot believe it," he said after Sunday's race. "This is turning into one of these just incredible storybook finishes to this year, to this career. Of all years. I mean, of all years, I cannot believe this."

Believe it. It's happening.

Jeff Gordon after climbing from his car last Sunday.
Jeff Gordon after climbing from his car last Sunday.Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

"That's a rock-star moment right there," Gordon said of the adulation he felt from fans as he climbed from the car Sunday.

And it has provided NASCAR with a lifeline to pull itself out of the muck that the governing body itself has created by allowing the drivers to go too far in this Chase before doing something about it.

Now Gordon goes to Homestead with the full power and the considerable resources of Hendrick Motorsports completely behind him. He's the only Hendrick driver left in the Chase. The next big NASCAR controversy may come if one or more of his three Hendrick teammates blocks for him to aid his championship run at Homestead, which they very well may do if it comes down to it.

But if Gordon wins the title in his final season, really, who is going to complain much about it without looking terrible for doing so?

Even before the win at Martinsville, Gordon's team had been showing signs of life recently after seemingly being one step away from life support on several earlier occasions this season when pit-road issues, many of Gordon's own doing, cost him better finishes. He won the pole and went on to finish third at Talladega, has finished eighth or better in four of the first seven Chase races and no worse than 14th in any of them.

The pit crew is clicking, Gordon has avoided speeding on pit road, and crew chief Alan Gustafson never relents in trying to make changes during races that will make the car faster and more to his driver's liking.

A Gordon title-clinching at Homestead not only would be a great story, a fitting capstone to a Hall of Fame career by a superstar driver, but it also would serve as an immediate balm to the self-inflicted wounds the sport has incurred during this Chase.

Don't blame the current Chase elimination format, introduced two years ago. Blame NASCAR for failing to police it correctly.

Logano and Kenseth were racing for the lead at Kansas when Logano turned Kenseth. So that's markedly different than when Kenseth turned race leader Logano at Martinsville when Kenseth was nine laps down. But it would have helped if NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France would have stayed out of the fray and instead of publicly praising Logano on SIRIUS Radio for his Kansas move, he would have made sure the two drivers got together and weren't going to cause any further trouble for each other.

Same for the Harvick incident at Talladega. NASCAR officials said they looked at videotape of the final restart and saw no wrongdoing on Harvick's part. Really? Are you kidding me?

Don't blame Harvick for doing what he thought he had to do to stay in the Chase. But now NASCAR just set the precedent for allowing the next guy to stay on the track with a faltering car to cause a wreck and caution on a late restart if his title hopes are on the line. Then again, NASCAR frequently ignores any precedents it appears to set and has done so for years.

Much of this Chase has been, quite frankly, a mess.

Unless, and this is entirely possible, France got exactly what he wanted with the string of Chase controversies.ย 

That brings us back to Gordon. Him winning the title would wrap this convoluted, otherwise goofy, screwed-up Chase in a nice, tidy bow that everyone will appreciate. Multiple fellow drivers took to Twitter to express just that after Gordon's big win at Martinsville.

"This is one of the finest moments I've ever had in my career," said Gordon after securing race win No. 93 of his career, third all time behind only Hall of Famers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). "It's just because what this year means, that this is my final year, my final race at Martinsville, punching our ticket to Homestead, having my family here, the hard work this team has put together, the reaction from the fans. ...

"Listen, why can't we go and win at Homestead? That's what I say. I think a lot of people didn't think we could do this, and we have. There's no reason why we can't do it there as well."

He won't even necessarily have to win to set off a celebration for the ages. He'll just need to finish ahead of the other three Championship 4 drivers.

Not only would that be great for Gordon, who deserves it, but it may be necessary for NASCAR, which probably doesn't.

Unless otherwise noted, all information was obtained firsthand.

Joe Menzer has written six books, including two about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report as well as assisting in coverage of NASCAR as a Digital Content Producer for FoxSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.