Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Little payoff for auto racing playoffs

Playoffs are not good for auto racing. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase has been dominated by Jimmie for four straight years. It probably cost Tony Stewart a championship this year. It cost Jeff Gordon at least two since the Chase started.
The National Hot Rod Assn. Countdown to One playoffs aren’t much better.
Sure, it’s created what can described as a winner-take-all weekend in the top fuel division at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Tony Schumacher leads Larry Dixon by one point with one race remaining.
The other three divisions, funny car, pro stock and pro stock motorcycle, lack that kind of suspense.
Robert Hight has a 105-point lead in the funny car standings over Ashley Force Hood. Mike Edwards is safely in the lead in the pro stock standings, 139 points head of Greg Anderson.
Hector Arana has some work to do in the pro stock motorcycle division, but still holds a 54-point lead over Ed Krawiec.
The one NHRA driver who should be the biggest critic of the Countdown format is funny car driver Ron Capps.
He won five funny car events, the most of any funny car driver, and had the lead in the funny car standings in the first 18 regular season races. But once the Countdown started, he dropped to fifth place with little chance of winning the funny car championship.
“Obviously, the opportunity to win a championship this year is pretty slim,” said Capps, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing. “But, I have to tell you, I am focused on ending the season like we did last year at this event. We went to the final round and had the quickest car. We also won here in the first race of this season, and now we have a very good chance of finishing No. 2 in the points.”
Hight has put together one of the best Countdown runs, winning three of the first five races, but he has little business leading the funny car standings at this point in the season.
“To have a 105 point lead going into Pomona it gives you a lot of confidence,” Hight said. “It is still not over. I think the only (teams) that really has a chance are Ashley along with Tony (Pedregon) and (Jack) Beckman.”
The chances of one of those three drivers, Force Hood, Pedregon or Beckman, catching Hight in Pomona are remote. In the history of the Countdown, no funny car driver has lost his lead heading into the finals at Pomona. It’s unlikely it will happen again.
Auto racing playoffs create paper champions. The winner of an auto racing championship should be rewarded for an entire season of success, not six or 10 races at the end of the year.
Johnson has done amazing things in the Chase.
Hight put together one of the best Countdown runs in the history of the NHRA.
But neither had stellar regular seasons. Hight’s was near disastrous and qualified for the Countdown by the skin of his teeth.
Yet, both are on the verge of winning auto racing championships. It doesn’t reflect well on the auto racing season when only a handful of races at the end are all that really matter.

Photo: Ron Capps won five NHRA funny car races, but is fifth in the Countdown to One standings with one race remaining. (NHRA)

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