The NASCAR Talking Points compare the new Chase format to that of the NCAA basketball tournament. Of course, a key aspect of that incredibly popular tourney is upsets, as smaller, less famous names beat the Big Guys.
In that sense, I guess you could say there is a comparison. Ticket-sellers/TV draws Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are out after Talladega. (They won't admit it, but I bet the NASCAR Powers-That-Be and the next four race promoters are disappointed.) Also Kasey Kahne. I was glad to see Jimmie and Junior race so aggressively, but typical 'Dega, they plummeted at the end. It was the second week in-a-row Johnson's finishing position was surprising as he was in position for a top-5, at least. Powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports has had many great days but this time lost three of its four Chase drivers. Only Jeff Gordon, who might have driven the most conservative race of his career, advances -- and by just three points. Busch and Junior were the only Chase contenders eliminated due to a crash and I am glad there weren't more.
The Talladega TV ratings will be a key indicator of how the elimination-style Chase is catching on -- or not -- with the public. Just the 'Dega name and reputation for wild racing and The Big One can attract casual viewers, and those who did so saw Junior leading a lot, and Danica Patrick up-front in the closing laps. Add those elements to the G-W-C finish and it's reasonable to think NASCAR might get a bump this week. If not, well . . .
I doubt many Chase brackets included the Toyota drivers advancing, and even if one did, the logical pick would have been Busch. So Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin moving on can be called an upset. Maybe Ryan Newman, too, who is winless in his first season with Richard Childress.
I wrote on Twitter (@SpinDoctor500) before the Chase started that this format would favor those who have shown speed all season, since winning is so important. Using that logic, I said Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Gordon would be the Final Four. We'll see, but for the next three weeks, they are part of the Elite Eight.
A P.S. to last week's posting: I made two obvious omissions when writing about people who don't have the luxury of "I don't want to." One is my friend Bob Margolis, whose own fierce determination to fight back from multiple health issues is wonderous. The other is my friend Alex Zanardi. I'm not sure it's possible to put together adequate words to describe what Alex has accomplished. Truly, absolutely, an inspiration to me and I'm sure millions worldwide. Thanks to both.
[ more next week . . . ]