Johnson City Press Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Sports Sports Columns Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

NASCAR has gotten it right

May 6th, 2014 7:32 pm by Jeff Birchfield

NASCAR has gotten it right

The racing has never been better in the Sprint Cup Series than the first quarter of this season with NASCAR putting a huge emphasis on winning.

Sunday’s race at Talladega lacked for last-lap drama with Denny Hamlin winning under caution, but for the most part, NASCAR’s new system for determining a champion has gotten the desired result.

There have been eight different winners in the first 10 races and the racing has been furious.

A four-way battle for the race win at Richmond provided some of the most thrilling final few laps seen in a long time.

Hard feelings from that race carried over to Talladega with the usually reserved Matt Kenseth blasting Brad Keselowski for his rough driving. The hard feelings started when Keselowski bumped Kenseth out of the lead at Richmond. At Talladega, Keselowski was the cause of two accidents, the second one coming while he was six laps down.

Keselowski responded to the critcism with why should he care what Kenseth or any of his other fellow drivers think?

He’s pretty much assured of making the 10-race “Chase for the Championship” playoff with a race win at Las Vegas earlier this season. 

Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick can afford to be even more reckless than Keselowski with two wins definitely making them locks for the Chase.

There are no signs of the aggressive racing letting up. With the way the system is set up now, a driver who otherwise wouldn’t have a shot at the Chase can make it by winning a race. It also means a driver who might have been on the bubble with points can no longer go for the consistent finish. Otherwise, it could come back to bite him. 

A good example of that currently would be a driver like Ryan Newman or Greg Biffle, eighth and ninth in the points, or even six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is seventh in the standings.

As it now stands, they would be in the Chase. Say they are in the same positions heading into those final few “regular-season” races.

Some of the drivers behind them could easily leap frog them and take their Chase spots by winning a race.

Looking down the road, it bodes well for the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In previous years, the August night race has been hurt by being so close to the start of the Chase. Drivers in those seventh, eighth or ninth spots wouldn’t make any sort of risky move to hurt their standing.

With this new format, they can’t afford to race conservatively.

Also take into account, the racing at the circuit’s other two short tracks, Richmond and Martinsville, has been intense and there’s no reason to believe Bristol will be otherwise.

Still, there is plenty of racing on tap before Bristol starting with this Saturday night’s race at Kansas and followed by two weekends at Charlotte for the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.

Despite all the emphasis that rewards aggressive driving which the younger drivers seem to excel at, former champions  Jeff Gordon and Kenseth, are currently 1-2 in the point standings.

Consistency is still rewarded in this new system and although it’s  unlikely, a driver still could win the championship without winning a race.

For now, the major emphasis continues to be winning and it could lead to one of the best Kansas races since Carl Edwards decided to go for broke on the final lap in 2008. He wasn’t able to make a winning pass against Jimmie Johnson stick, but still gained respect for his decision to forget about points and go after the win, an attitude never prevalent than now.

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Johnson City driver Zeke Shell will look to make it two wins in a row this Friday night at Kingsport Speedway.

Shell dominated action the last time out, leading all 60 laps of the Late Model Stock feature at the 3/8-mile concrete oval.

In addition to the Late Models, there are feature races scheduled for the Street Stock, Pure 4, Rookie Pure 4, Iron Warriors and Legends divisions.

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with racing scheduled to start at 8 p.m.

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Bristol Dragway has big money bracket racing scheduled this week with the K&N Spring Fling going from today until Sunday.

There are $15,000-to-win races scheduled for tonight and Sunday with $20,000-to-win races on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

It should be a large event after a record-setting 450 cars participated in a single bracket racing event last season.

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Volunteer Speedway has a $4,000-to-win race for the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series scheduled for this Saturday night.

It is the first of two stops at Bulls Gap this season for the Carolina Clash Series.

Besides the main event at the 4/10-mile dirt track, there are also 40-lap features for the Steel Head Late Models and Crate Late Models, as well as a 20-lap feature for the Modified Hobby division.

Grandstands open at 6 p.m. with racing scheduled to start around 8:30 p.m.

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Riders will experience an all-new track design at the Appalachian Fairgrounds this Saturday for the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series.

A tractor pull held since the last race at the venue required the track to be leveled and rebuilt.

Construction is still underway at Muddy Creek Raceway as the Blountville track prepares to host the second annual Tennessee Nationals for the AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series on June 28.

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