Ryan: ‘Erase the Chase’ is an idea whose time had come

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CHARLOTTE – It was time to erase the Chase.

No, Monday’s announcement by NASCAR didn’t eradicate the 10-race stretch that has determined the champion of its premier series for the past 13 seasons. The structure remains largely untouched aside from a new wrinkle that carries over points from the regular season to ensure less arbitrary title outcomes.

But Monday did mark the death knell of what had become the primary pejorative in a NASCAR vernacular littered with unwieldy and unappealing terminology.

They are seemingly innocuous words that stoke the most hateful, negative and ugly reactions from passionate fans who claim precious ownership of racing like no other sport.

The Car of Tomorrow.

The top-35 rule.

The Chase.

Each of these terms, however well-intended, became the third rail for hyperbolic fan outrage on satellite radio and social media

And each of them now has disappeared into NASCAR’s dictionary dustbin of history.

The Car of Tomorrow was reconfigured and then renamed as the clever “Gen 6” car.

The top-35 rule essentially was erased and then replaced by the more benign charter system.

And now …

“I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said with a sly smile, “this is a great day for them.”

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Slapping a new title on a championship structure that has been maligned during its 13-year existent won’t be a cure-all for those who never have been fans of the format.

This admittedly is a PR and marketing exercise. It will have no impact on competition or the opinions of those who already believe the Latford points system of 1975-2003 shouldn’t have been abandoned.

There are Jeff Gordon fans who remain steadfast in their opposition to the Chase because they believe it cheated their hero out of multiple championships.

And there are others who actually will lament the disappearance of “Chase,” because they believe the term helped differentiate NASCAR.

But in an image-conscious sport desperate for corporate sponsorship, the switch to “playoffs” still matters even without an iota of on-track impact.

This isn’t a rebranding a la the Gen 6.

It’s about appropriating an existing sports term that carries major-league cachet.

The mere utterance of “Chase” became a dismissive rallying cry for many who hissed its name while railing about the system.

It’s harder to sound so disparaging when complaining about the “playoffs” (unless you’re Jim Mora). In fact, it sounds silly.

“Playoffs” are synonymous with indelible moments and must-see drama.

They connote an appealing sports conceit with an elegance and simplicity that always eluded “Chase”.

“When they’re talking about sports, people understand playoffs,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “We introduced a new word, i.e. the Chase, and we liked it at first, but when you really talk about it, when (Hendrick Motorsports president) Marshall Carlson is out talking to a sponsor, well, it’s ‘What’s the Chase?’  Well, it’s our playoffs.  And people immediately get that and they understand that.

“This is a big sport built on sponsorship for sponsors to understand, for fans to understand, and it’s a common word that most sports fans know.”

Some of us have been lobbying for ditching the Chase since NASCAR most recently overhauled it three years ago (and ratcheted up the action, intensity and pressure as a result).

But there always had been resistance to calling the Chase a playoff, despite how natural it seemed.

NASCAR heavily messaged the January 2004 news conference that introduced the Chase for the Championship. Reporters repeatedly were told by officials that “this is not a playoff” because “all of our events will continue to be Super Bowl-type races with 43 drivers competing.”

No one wanted to hurt the feelings of longtime fans asked to absorb a sea change that was antithetical to some core principles that were preached as gospel for decades.

There was major pushback on anyone who intimated that the Chase created two distinct seasons. When the Chase was introduced, NASCAR tirelessly emphasized there were no knockout rounds or points resets or anything analogous to how other pro sports handled their playoffs.

But things have changed. All that stuff has been happening in NASCAR since 2014.

There are eliminations. There are points resets (and still are with a few caveats). There is segmentation from the regular season.

It’s a playoff in every sense of the word – which is why the word changed.

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Goodyear tire info for Talladega Superspeedway

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Goodyear will use the same tire setups this weekend in the Cup and Xfinity Series at Talladega Superspeedway.

While the left-side tire is unchanged from what’s been in use at the track since October 2014, the right-side tire will have a minor construction update.

“The amount of tire wear at Talladega has increased a good bit since the track was repaved back in 2010, and we especially see that on the inboard of the right-front (tire) where teams run a significant amount of camber” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing in a press release. “That led us to bring a more wear-resistant right-side tread compound starting in 2014. Having said that, we still see a lot of tire strategy come into play at Talladega, with teams still having the ability to take two tires or even fuel only depending on the situation.”

As on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners in all four tire positions at Talladega. Air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.

Here’s the full tire info for the weekend.

Set limits: Cup: Two sets for practice, one set for qualifying and six sets for the race; Xfinity: four sets for the event

Tire Codes: Left-side — D-4596; Right-side — D-4752

Tire Circumference: Left-side — 2,233 mm (87.91 in.); Right-side — 2,247 mm (88.46 in.)

Minimum Recommended Inflation: Left Front — 27 psi; Left Rear – 27 psi; Right Front — 50 psi; Right Rear — 48 psi

Social Roundup: Reaction to Matt Kenseth’s NASCAR return

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He’s back!

Five months after making what was thought to likely be his last Cup start, Matt Kenseth was announced Wednesday as returning in a part-time capacity with Roush Fenway Racing.

Here’s how social media reacted to the news that the 2003 Cup champion will share the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne for the rest of the season.

Check back for more.

Matt Kenseth to drive No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Kenseth is returning to NASCAR and coming back to his racing home.

Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that the 46-year-old Kenseth will drive the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in select races. His first race with the team will be Kansas on May 12.

“It feels like the right deal at the right time,’’ Kenseth said. “I think it’s an interesting challenge for me not just being a driver. I hope I can be much more to the organization. I hope there is a lot of different ways I can help in.’’

Said car owner Jack Roush: “We feel he has come home to us.’’

Kenseth will share the No. 6 ride with Trevor Bayne, who is running this weekend at Talladega.

“Our goal is to have Trevor continue to grow and mature on the track,’’ said Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing. “He will continue to be in the car.’’

Newmark said details are being worked out on what races Bayne and Kenseth will drive. Bayne has close ties to sponsor AdvoCare, which is on the car at Talladega. Kenseth will drive in the All-Star Race, Newmark confirmed.

Newmark said that when he told Bayne of the decision, Bayne said he wanted to remain in the car every week.

He’s a fierce competitor,“ Newmark said of Bayne’s reaction to being taken out of the car for some races. 

Roush said he hopes Kenseth can help the organization improve its performance.

“It’s a chance to look at our cars and see if there is something glaring that Matt sees with his experience,’’ Roush said.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has had at least one top-10 finish this season. He has not finished in the top 10 in his last 12 starts, dating back to last season.

Kenseth said he had not talked to Bayne but hopes to do so in a few days and work together. Kenseth said he spoke to Stenhouse before the announcement.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, has 39 career Cup wins, putting him 20th on the all-time wins list.

Car owner Jack Roush said that Kenseth will be a good mentor for the team’s young drivers, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.

He won the 2000 Cup Rookie of the Year award driving for Roush Fenway Racing and remained with the organization through the 2012 season. Kenseth won 24 races — including the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500 — with the team before leaving to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing from 2013-17.

Roush Fenway Racing also announced that Wyndham Rewards/Wyndham Hotels will sponsor the No. 6 car in select races.

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NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto holds head high after 16th at Richmond

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Matt DiBenedetto joined Kyle Petty and Marty Snider at the Big Oak Table in NASCAR America’s Charlotte studio and relived his 16th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“When we run 16th – with no attrition; we just flat out-raced Hendrick cars … RCR cars and Penske cars, the list goes on and on – we do that, we can hold our head high,” DiBenedetto said.

DiBenedetto was one of 23 drivers who finished on the lead lap last week, which meant he had to beat some big budget teams.

“If we’re going by budget and pure numbers, we stack up 32nd, -3rd, -4th,” DiBenedetto. “But we have really good people. We may not have a lot of people, but we have some really good people.

“We had a nice, smooth weekend and outraced a lot of people that in theory, if you’re going by budget, we definitely shouldn’t. It makes us proud because it makes other people, probably a little mad, as they see the 32 car going by, knowing that we run on a sixth of the budget of the guys we were driving by.”

DiBenedetto’s last three races have ended in finishes of 16th at Texas Motor Speedway, 21st at Bristol Motor Speedway and 16th at Richmond.

For more on DiBenedetto’s strong Richmond finish, watch the above video.