By admin | September 3, 2008
By Richard Allen
Although there is still plenty to be settled with one week remaining before the cutoff for NASCARâ€™s Chase for the Championship takes place, it looks as if very few owners will actually compete for the title.
The fact that it is likely only four owners will be involved should come as no surprise to anyone since it has been apparent for some time that the â€œBig 4â€ organizations are clearly well ahead of the competition. Those teams are Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing.
At the end of Sundayâ€™s Pepsi 500 in California each of the â€œBig 4â€ had three representatives inside the Top 12 of the overall standings. It is the Top 12 at the end of this weekâ€™s race in Richmond which will make up the field for NASCARâ€™s playoff system.
As it stands right now the only organization with a realistic chance to break up the â€œBig 4â€ dominance is the Gillett Evernham Motorsports team of driver Kasey Kahne. Kahne is currently in the 14th place of the standings, 48 points out of the 12th position. The 13th place driver is David Ragan, a Roush Fenway Racing driver, who would simply replace one of the other â€œBig 4â€ drivers should he race his way into the Top 12.
The dominance of these teams dates well back. The last time a champion came from any team other than one of these was in 1999 when Dale Jarrett took the title driving for Robert Yates Racing. These four organizations have claimed 14 of the past 15 Sprint Cup championships.
Besides carrying the hopes of those who like to root against the establishment, Kahne is also bearing the burden of Dodge. That manufacturer does not currently have one of its drivers represented in the Top 12. Should Kahne not move up in the standings, it would be the first time since the 2004 inception of the Chase format that Dodge has not had at least one driver to qualify for the playoff.
Obviously, dominating the standings as they do also indicates that the â€œBig 4â€ are dominating in the winnerâ€™s circle week after week. Of the 25 races held so far in 2008, 21 have been won by drivers who compete for these teams.
The season started off well enough for the â€œothersâ€ when Ryan Newman, driving for Penske Racing South, captured the Daytona 500. Since then, however, Penskeâ€™s teams have managed just one more victory. Those wins combined with Kahneâ€™s two checkered flags are all that have kept the â€œBig 4â€ from total domination.
Apart from a virtual miracle by Kahne, it looks as if the 2008 Sprint Cup champion will once again come from the ranks of one of these powerful organizations. That will make 15 of the last 16.
Someone asked me at the first of the year how many races I thought these teams would win this season. I remember guessing between 28-30. It looks like I underestimated the â€œBig 4â€ or I overestimated the â€œothersâ€.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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