So here we sit facing another NASCAR Ford Championship weekend and we know one thing... that four drivers will be facing off for the title and that we will have a first time NASCAR Sprint CUP Champion in 2014.
OK, that was two. Sorry.
While these four face off, some of the biggest names in the sport like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr have no shot at any outside chance of a comeback for the trophy.
The new Chase format made sure of that.
The four teams facing off against each other include Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick. What makes next weekend exciting for the TV viewing audience is that it won't matter who had how many wins, top-10s or points this season because they have had their points reset, via this new playoff system. No bonuses, no nothing. This is it. Four drivers, all or nothing, and depending where they finish, will mark our next NASCAR champion.
That means a simple bad lug-nut, a questionable spark plug, a poorly performed pit stop or another team's misfortune can collect your favorite driver and destroy his hopes for a championship. In the snap of a finger or less.
There's no more need for someone to finish ninth or better if driver X finishes 20th and other such scenarios. Now it's where ever they are in the field and it is as simple as that.
The highest finishing driver wins the championship.
And this new format is doing what I suspect NASCAR had hoped for*, and that is bring more attention to the sport on TV. And oh has it.
*To be honest, NASCAR lasted since the late 40s with nary a change, and now that they've have big television partnerships, there seem to have been more and more changes to the process. Just saying.
To be honest, even though folks are making a big deal of how Dale Jr, Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson are out with no chance at capturing the title, most seasons it has usually been down to just a few drivers any way.
So if you think that race fans have been ripped off, think about the emotions this new format is eliciting from you and tell me something isn't working? If this were a good movie and you were getting angry with a character, that actor has done his job.
There are a lot of frustrated fans out there and just as many happy ones. And for NASCAR that is not a bad thing. Remember, the bottom line is the success of our beloved sport. If it fails, what will fans have to watch?
Getting back on track about who should or shouldn't be vying for the top spot this year, here is something to console yourself with: All four drivers sit in the top-10 of drivers with top-10 finishes.
Logano and Harvick share the spot within the group with the most top-5 finishes.
Logano and Harvick also share that spot of most wins this season with Keselowski, Gordon and Dale Jr and Johnson.
Not tied, shared.
Many will argue that Newman does not belong in the Homestead Miami Speedway race, but it does not matter what we think or feel. The new format has dictated the four drivers going mano-a-mano.
This new format made Phoenix the most important race of the season, until this week. Prior to this, Phoenix was usually just a fun race to watch, with the occasional burst of anticipation about the season, depending on the year.
Right now the new format revved up all attention on that track.
Despite fans having a love and hate seizure about this new format, the positive spin for the sport and networks was how they had never seen this many drivers so close to the bubble in points and eliminations for the Chase. And all it took was several seasons of tinkering with formats and points.
Was it me, or did the TV coverage avoid showing the dogleg at Phoenix most of the race?
With Phoenix having come and gone, we have the ever-dreaded Homestead Miami Speedway track. It is a tricky track where strong drivers tend to meet their match while other drivers love it. And this track is not another D-oval shaped track but a one-of-a-kind configuration.
With that said, statistically, who might have the edge at Homestead?
Driver, Driver Rating
Driver ratings can only say so much, but if a team comes in to a race feeling defeated, they may just self-destruct unintentionally. I would have to wait and see how their practice and qualifying sessions looked to feel good about backing one or the other driver. But these numbers suggest this is Kevin Harvick's to lose. We'll see.
But next weekend will provide a first time champion. Whether it be that Joey kid, or the Newman guy who has no wins this season, or Denny who always seems to have a shot... or that Harvick guy who likes pushing drivers into fights... it will be a worthy win regardless.
And if a little controversy comes with it, so be it.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler and Leon Hammack - OnPitRow.com