NASCAR Sprint Cup: The Best Early Christmas Presents for Every Chase Driver
Now that October has been black flagged and November has screeched into the pit stall of the present, Santa Claus is looking on to see how he can help each of the 12 Sprint Cup Chase drivers in both large and small ways.
But, Santa's elves have not been working on toys or preparing stockings for stock car racing's best. Rather, he has focused his spirit of giving on words of wisdom for each driver, save for one deserving participant.
Santa knows everything. He realized years ago that, at the point when he is getting prepared for the busy holiday season, most of the Chase drivers have already folded like a house of cards. This year, he will deliver the gift of a new hope for most drivers and some Christmas cheer for others to end a drought.
None of his gifts will include a championship; that must be earned. Santa is not going to deliver that anyway: it makes the NASCAR season much more interesting to watch, for him, during his downtime at the North Pole.
In 2011, Santa Claus gives the gift of wise words for the drivers to heed for the remaining races and for the new year.
Kyle Busch: A Word of Encouragement
"Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad."
Kyle Busch needs some encouragement. After a highly-successful regular season that saw him tied with Kevin Harvick for the most wins (four), he has digressed into his usual, winless persona in the Chase. In fact, despite all of his lofty accomplishments in the top three levels of NASCAR, he has never won a Chase race.
This really came to fruition at Martinsville when, after leading some laps, he fell behind and was eventually spun into the wall. After the obligatory pit stop to fix his car, he darted out of pit row, but alas! His front left tire fell off the car before he reached turn three.
I heard Kyle's voice on my rented scanner as he radioed in to the crew. He was not angry, he was not frustrated; no, he sounded completely dejected. The day was clear, but the clouds of disappointment were evident in the tone of his voice.
Those that jeer him may rejoice in his derogatory nickname "Kryle." However, he really does need some kind words this Christmas season.
Unfortunately, his actions during the Camping World Truck Series involving Ron Hornaday have landed him in some hot water. He is now on Santa's "naughty" list.
(I must thank my best friend's dad, long-time NASCAR fan Gary Green, for insisting I rent a scanner at the race. I must also thank my mom for sending me a check to get it. Thanks guys!)
Denny Hamlin: Cheerfulness
"A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken."
Denny Hamlin got a little taste of Christmas cheer by winning the Martinsville Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville. This is one of the only times he has flashed a smile during the Chase season. But, Santa Claus was not the giver of that handsome grandfather clock.
After barely sneaking into the Chase, Hamlin all but gave up by the end of the third race at Dover. He was already looking to next year.
Keep smiling, Denny! 2012 can only get better.
Tony Stewart: Prudence
"The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well into his going."
Prudence is the capability to exercise sound judgment in practical matters in the interest of one's self, such as crossing the finish line first in a NASCAR Chase race.
It looks as though Santa has delivered very early for Tony Stewart. After crossing the finish line first for the fourth time in the 2011 Chase, is there any question that the gift of prudence has been bestowed upon Smoke?
Kevin Harvick: Patience
"For jealousy is the rage of man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance."
Kevin Harvick is a fairly patient driver. He has no problem hanging back in the pack until the moment is right to strike. At this point in the season, he may be more apt to make a mistake for lack of patience, especially if he starts counting points during a rage.
He must also guard against the jealousy that may come if he loses the championship by very little for the second straight year.
Jimmie Johnson: Humility
"When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom."
Jimmie Johnson is saying all the right things when it comes to his expectations for the rest of the season. In a sense, he seems to have conceded the fact that he really cannot win the championship this year.
If there was any doubt before, then his spinout at Texas laid it all to rest. He will have to spend his first offseason in five years not being the best. His best gift would be a humble acceptance of this fact and a returned motivation in the 2012 season to get back to the mountain top.
Ryan Newman: One Small Ant To Observe
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise: Which, having no guide or overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer and gathereth her food in the harvest."
As the picture symbolizes, Ryan Newman has spent much of the 2011 Chase season in the shadow of almost all the other drivers. He has never cracked the top 10 out of 12 drivers. In a word, the last races of the season have been a disappointment for Newman.
The "Rocket Man" could use a new paradigm. As the proverb suggests, it may be as simple as observing the lowly ant, who, despite the time of year, strives to gather and build for the future. Newman truly needs to hit the "reset" button after such a poor Chase performance.
Brad Keselowski: Wisdom for the Future
"How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!"
This is Brad Keselowski's first Chase, and he has performed admirably. The greatest gift that he can receive has already been given to him—experience for the future.
Actually, Brad K was making a decent case for himself during the middle of the Chase to be considered a serious contender. That has since subsided, but what he has lost in championship points he has gained in priceless experience at such a young age.
Remember, it was not so long ago that Keselowski was in 25th place and barely considered an outside choice to enter the Chase. He has a long and promising career ahead of him. To win this this year could have the potential to spoil him. It's better that he has been given the gift of experience to be used later in his career.
Matt Kenseth: Staying the Course
"Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
Of all the drivers listed here, Matt Kenseth may be least in need of a present. He has already won a championship. He is very resolute is his philosophy, which is, more or less, summed up in the aforementioned proverb. He just needs to continue this mindset.
Even after his important win at Charlotte that landed him in second place for the championship, he was quick to point out that it really did not matter because all that matters is where a driver ends up after the last race at Homestead.
Kenseth, no matter what happens, can hang his hat on the fact that he put together a solid run in the 2011 Chase.
Kurt Busch: Communication
"Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish."
There is no more cantankerous a fellow than Kurt Busch when it comes to radio communications with his pit crew chief. At times, it looks as though it is a motivational tool. Indeed, Kurt Busch has had a measured amount of success this season.
However, this style of communication has not proved efficient over the course of the entire season. Busch's tendency to berate his team, crew chief and car during a race has led to his demise in the 2011 Chase.
Bush's greatest gift this holiday season would be an improvement to his communication and an overall more positive, optimistic tone over the radio, even when the situation is at its seemingly most dire.
Jeff Gordon: Continued Charity
"In meeting men, in many places, I have found the happiest people are those who do the most for others; the most miserable are those who do the least."
Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery
Jeff Gordon has enjoyed his most successful season in recent years. Although his efforts in the Chase have come up a bit short, 2011 was still a great year for Gordon and his team.
Hopefully, he can find some happiness in the season and satisfaction in the knowledge that his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet is doing good for the impoverished.
The greatest gift to him would be the motivation to continue these good deeds, and perhaps, branch out into a wider net of charitable actions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: A Victory!
There is no specific quote for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He is the only Chase driver without a win, and he deserves one, whether in the final races of 2011 or some time in 2012.
This would not only be a gift for him, but for the many fans of Junior Nation. Is there a driver in NASCAR who more people are pulling for to get a win right now?
He has been a team player; he pushed Jimmie Johnson to his only regular season win in Talladega.
He almost had enough gas to win at Charlotte. If Santa has a victory left in his gift bag, he should put it under the Christmas tree of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Carl Edwards: Confidence
"Confidence is the food of the wise and the liquor of the fool"
Vikkram, from the episode "Dream Team" of The Office
Tony Stewart has been gaining on Carl Edwards for the points lead for three straight weeks. After climbing out of his car at Talladega and Martinsville, all Edwards could express was relief that he had finished where he did. If things continue as they have, Edwards will not win his first championship.
He needs a big dose of confidence but needs to be wary that it does not bubble over into the perils of hubris. "Cousin" Carl won the last two races of 2010 at Phoenix and Homestead.
He should be confident in that. But, a little gift of added confidence from Santa Claus may be just what he needs to end the reign of Jimmie Johnson.