NEWS

Jane Miller: Where's the Chase excitement?

Jane Miller

They tried to make it exciting.

NASCAR developed the Chase for the Championship format to try to bring a little end-of-the-season zip to a runaway title chase.

This year, they even tweaked the points a little to make wins count more.

You see how much of a difference that made, don't you?

So now we're back to pretty much of a done deal with four (yawn) races to go.

Sure, Greg Biffle is 149 points back and Jeff Burton just three points behind him, but the way Jimmie Johnson continues to run at the end of the season, do they really have a chance?

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have unlocked the combination to this format and play it to perfection.

The two-time champ has won two of the six Chase races and has an average Chase finish of fourth. Pretty tough to make up any ground with those kind of numbers.

And Johnson's pursuers are running themselves ragged trying to do it.

"If I tried any more at Charlotte, I would have been backwards in the fence," Biffle said. "I tried all I could and I'm gonna do the same at Atlanta and the same at Texas and Phoenix and Homestead. I'm gonna put it all on the line because I really don't have anything to lose - I have a lot to gain.

"I certainly don't want to crash the car and fall back to sixth in points, but, at the same time, we have to beat the 48 and we have to get the best finish we can. I'm gonna continue to do what I've done in the first six Chase races and that's to try and win."

Former driver and current Fox broadcaster Darrell Waltrip recently weighed in on the Chase format.

First of all, he said he didn't think it was fair but he also thought Chase drivers should be on a different points system than the rest of the field.

He also suggested the Chase be reduced to five races, which is not a bad idea.

It's obvious some changes need to be made, since it's also obvious they won't go back to just letting the season play out on its own.

The only two adjustments to the format so far were the bonus points for wins and the addition of two drivers to the cutoff – from 10 to 12 – and that was just to make sure the most popular drivers didn't miss the cut anymore.

Well, they're in it, all right, but Jeff Gordon is seventh in points, 275 back, Tony Stewart is 8th (338) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ninth (379).

So it's wait until next year for those guys already.

This is nothing against Johnson and Knaus. They've obviously learned their lessons well and know how to step it up when it counts.

It's just the excitement this format was supposed to generate really isn't working.

Staying cautious

Johnson, of course, isn't celebrating anything yet with four races to go.

"We still have four to go and a lot can happen," he said. "We've watched the Truck race take a 100-point swing last weekend, and I know that reality could be there for us. And we just need to stay focused and committed to what we do as a team and how we execute and take it from there."

Still, Johnson said he's having an easier time this season defending his title.

"The thing I'm most proud is how our team has performed under pressure the last two and a half Chases," he said. "We've done a very good job dealing with pressure. ... If we maintain that and control the things that we put our hands on, I feel like we'll be in good shape. We'll just keep plugging away and hope that we get four more good ones."

Not again

Qualifying has been rained out three times in the six Chase races and - there's a 90 percent chance of rain on Friday in Braselton, Ga.

No luck at all

Poor Jamie McMurray.

I can't think of a driver who has had more bad luck recently. Both Sunday and a week ago he was running with the leaders only to have a mechanical failure doom him to a dismal finish.

And this after his pit crew was raided to help out his four teammates who are in the Chase.

He just can't catch a break.

300 for Blaney

Caterpillar-sponsored Dave Blaney will be making his 300th start on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

He made his first Cup start at Rockingham in October of 1992 and his first start at Atlanta in 1999, driving for Bill Davis Racing.

He will also celebrate his 46th birthday on Friday.

Jane Miller is the Peoria Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at jmiller@pjstar.com.