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Ryan: William Byron’s knockout underscores a flaw of Chase

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – When William Bryon’s engine exploded with 12 laps remaining in Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race, it exposed the greatest of fault lines in NASCAR’s playoff structure.

And it could rupture in a full-blown implosion of intractably poor optics in the Nov. 18 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since switching the Chase for the Sprint Cup (which was christened in the truck and Xfinity circuits this year) to a system of eliminations and points resets, the danger always loomed of a driver consistently beating the competition before falling prey to a fluky finish that short-circuits a title bid.

There have been other examples – Jimmie Johnson’s axle seal failure at Dover leaps to mind – over the past three seasons, but none resonated as much as Byron’s plight.

It’s not just that the Bryon has as many victories (six) this season as the remaining four title contenders combined.

It’s how he consistently has outraced Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters during the Chase.

In the previous five races of the playoff, Byron finished higher than at least one of those four contenders every time. Twice, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver’s No. 9 Toyota was the group’s highest finisher.

So now what happens if the 18-year-old rising star, who is headed to Hendrick Motorsports and surely would be a highly desirable asset as champion in NASCAR’s desperate marketing push for Millennials, manages to win the Nov. 18 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

Bryon will have won twice in the Chase and finished in the top 10 of every other event except Phoenix – where a faulty part late in the race kept him out of victory lane after leading 112 of 150 laps.

The championship never will have seemed more arbitrary and less valid.

The most tired trope trotted out to defend the current Chase is that a favorite eliminated in such a manner as Byron was would be the equivalent of the New England Patriots’ undefeated season ending in a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

This is nonsense.

Byron’s situation is much more analogous to the Cleveland Indians winning the first six games of the World Series but losing the championship to the Chicago Cubs because they were forced to play a seventh game and lost.

It is possible (though certainly not plausible) that a driver could win the first nine races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, lead the first 266 laps of the finale and lose the championship because of an engine failure at the white flag.

That is why NASCAR’s playoffs are fundamentally different. Some of these factors might be more applicable to the truck Chase, which has the smallest sample sizes of drivers (eight to start) and races (seven) — but the underpinnings of this playoff structure always make these scenarios possible.

There are no “real” eliminations, there is only ineligibility. Everybody keeps playing (as they should; racing doesn’t lend itself to heightened drama by reducing the field), increasing the possibility that a supremely worthy candidate’s chances can be doomed by suspect circumstances.

That’s why Friday night’s stunning twist felt unlike any other.

And that’s why next week’s coronation in South Florida will ring especially hollow if Byron wins – and surpasses the 2016 victory total for the championship four – while another driver is crowned champion.

 

Cole Pearn to honor late friend with fundraiser for family next month in Toronto

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A testimonial to Cole Pearn’s best friend, who unexpectedly passed away in early August, as well as a fundraiser for his family will be held Friday, Jan. 5, at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Pearn’s lifelong friend, Jacob Damen, died unexpectedly after contracting a fast-moving bacterial infection on August 3.

Pearn, crew chief for the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship for Furniture Row Racing, will oversee the gala event, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. ET.

The evening will also include an appearance by 2017 NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., silent and live auctions, the opportunity to meet both Pearn and Truex and other events.

All net proceeds from the evening will be given to the Damen Family Fund.

“We miss our buddy Jacob dearly,” Pearn said in a media release. “We all have family and friends that fill a space in our hearts that is irreplaceable.

“Jacob filled the hearts of his wife Carolyn, his sons Lucas and Nolan, his parents Jerry and Kim Damen, twin brother Tyler, sister Julia and countless friends.

“We are going to celebrate his life at the perfect spot, the Hockey Hall of Fame, to support his beautiful wife Carolyn and the two boys, Lucas and Nolan. I can’t wait to get home to celebrate with everyone.”

Click here for more details and to purchase tickets to the ‘Jacob Damen Friend and Fan Remembered’ event.

NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day scheduled for Jan. 20

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The annual NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day will return to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, next month.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 20, the day after the 2018 Hall of Fame class is inducted.

Fans will be able to take part in an autograph session with current national series drivers, Hall of Famers and members of the NASCAR Next class, as well photo opportunities and question-and-answer sessions with a number of NASCAR legends.

Admission to Hall of Fame will be free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis

Admission to driver autograph sessions is free but will require a ticket for participation. Fans can register for the driver autograph sessions at nascarhall.com beginning Saturday, Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. ET. A full driver autograph session schedule will be announced at a later date.

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Ryan Blaney to guest star on NBC’s ‘Taken’ next year

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Ryan Blaney has a particular set of skills; skills that he’s developed through years of professional auto racing.

The Team Penske driver will get to display those skills next year on NBC’s “Taken” TV Series.

The show serves as a prequel to the 2008 Liam Neeson film of the same name.

Blaney, 23, will guest start on the second season of the series, which premieres Jan. 12. He will appear in an episode titled “Imperium” as a special agent who knows his way around a car.

Here’s the plot synopsis for the episode.

“When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan Mills (Clive Standen) teams up with the FBI in a race to stop him before he reaches the safety of international waters.”

This won’t be Blaney’s first time in front of a camera playing someone else. He had two movie cameos this year in Logan Lucky and Cars 3.

Blaney was filming his role in “Taken” on Tuesday in Ontario. See his tweets from the set below.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram update: Leaves ICU, moves to acute care facility

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram’s condition continues to improve following a serious car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina on Dec. 3.

According to an online post by his daughter, Ingram was taken out of Intensive Care on Tuesday and moved into an Acute Care facility, which is not as serious as ICU is.

Ingram did suffer a small setback in his recovery, developing a slight infection that is being treated with antibiotics.

Added the note from Ingrid Jones, Jack’s daughter, “The acute care facility will work to start decreasing his pain meds, over time, and put him on less narcotics and more simple analgesics (like really strong Tylenol, but without narcotics).

“Also they will continue his therapies, physical and occupational, as he’s able. It is still hard to know what his long-term health future will be, but we think his color looks really good, and we have no doubts that he has the will and determination to see this through.

“So if it is humanly possible for him to overcome, he will.”

We’ll continue to have periodic updates on Ingram’s condition as they become available.