These Guys are in the Sprint Cup Chase for a Reason

David DubczakContributor IOctober 13, 2009

LONG POND, PA - AUGUST 03:  The #48 crew changes a carburetor on the Lowes Chevrolet, driven by Jimmie Johnson, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at the Pocono Raceway on August 3, 2009 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

A buddy of mine and I have a fantasy league. It’s just the two of us (actually, there’s a third, but he’s in it as a joke) and it’s about as simple it can be– we just pick a driver, and at the end of the day, we get as many points as that driver did. We see where in the Sprint Cup series standings we would be with that many points.

After Atlanta, my driver, Ryan Newman, finished 8th, and I lost four spots in points. I lost four spots after a top-ten finish!

This is the nature of Sprint Cup racing this year.

Things are incredibly close– not necessarily because of any changes to the points system, but because drivers are all close.

Every week, most of the top ten drivers are Chase drivers. The reason Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, and Juan Pablo Montoya are so close is because they have yet to finish outside of the top-ten in the Chase.

You see, Jimmie Johnson has shown us in the past three Chase seasons that the key to winning is perfection. No one has been able to touch him because they haven’t been as perfect.

Last season, Carl Edwards was seen as the only potential threat. They went to Talladega and Edwards made a drafting mistake that caused the “big one.” It was his only blemish, but caused him to be less than perfect and give up the championship.

People talk about getting one “mulligan” in the Chase- one bad race. However, this is only true if everyone has a bad race. Last year, Jimmie had no mulligans and Carl had one (Kyle Busch wanted his entire Chase to be counted). I’ve already told you who won in the end.

But this is good!

The best team should win the Sprint Cup, and the best team is the one who has the least mistakes, if any mistakes at all.

I’m continually amazed by Johnson’s Lowe’s no. 48 team led by Chad Knaus. They tend to exemplify perfection– example: they changed their carburetor at Pocono without losing a lap. They practice and rehearse these things and when problems arise, they rise over them and end up on top.

This is why Superman wears Jimmie Johnson pajamas.

This year, all the teams have tried to emulate the Knausian model of perfection, especially during the chase. The only ones who have succeeded have been Martin and Montoya (though Vicker’s crew gets props for changing a broken axle without losing a lap at Atlanta, something even Johnson’s crew couldn’t do).

This is why these guys are in the Chase– they have been perfect. This is why the Chase is so close. The team that wins the championship is the team that is the most perfect, or the team that is perfect.

Other NASCAR Notes

First, regarding the “phantom cautions” thrown this weekend at California.

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Fans have been suspicious of NASCAR throwing fake cautions under the guise of debris simply to close up the field and reset things for years. Sunday was the first time one of the drivers, Kasey Kahne, has been as vocal about it on TV as he was.

Kasey’s beef was that the field being bunched up caused a massive pile-up that ended his day. To introduce another common cliché, “cautions breed cautions.”

Well, I’ve got news for you: cautions don’t cause cautions; drivers cause cautions. How come no one wrecks like that on the start of the race? Because they’re all being patient with each other. At the end of the race, every position matters, and drivers are more aggressive, but it’s the drivers causing the cautions.

NASCAR has no responsibility as to what the drivers do on the track if the drivers are impatient and racing five wide three rows deep, someone’s going to crash. Cautions don’t cause cautions, drivers cause cautions.

But, in Kasey’s defense, who knows what’s really behind this caution.

Case in point:

I was at the Camping World Truck Series race at the Iowa Speedway, and it had been green for 80-some laps, and Mike Skinner was running away with it. Then, the caution comes out for “debris” on the front stretch.

My friend and I (the same friend with whom I have the fantasy league) watch the safety truck drive slowly down the front stretch and not seeing anything, drive back around the track slowly down the front stretch again, stopping in the middle to pick up what must have been an amoeba on the edge of the infield grass.

“It’s a good thing they got that,” I turned around and said. “I sure wouldn’t want to be racing with that on the track.”

Our conspiracy was that the safety truck put the debris there on the first trip around and picked it up on the second.

Who knows.

I do have to say though, with as much time, preparation, and fine-tuning that goes on with these cars and trucks and the detail of the pre-race checklist, I find it hard to believe things will just fall off the cars at the rate they seem to in the Sprint Cup Series.

Then again, I was watching truck qualifying from right up against the turn one infield fence at the Milwaukee Mile two years ago, when I saw a wrench fall off the back of Todd Bodine’s truck. Now, that’s debris I went up and told the NASCAR spotters.

Cautions don’t cause cautions, drivers cause cautions.