By admin | September 8, 2008
By Richard Allen
NASCAR has had the Chase for the Championship since 2004. At first, the Top 10 drivers were allowed to race for the title over the last ten races of the season. Then, after some big stars missed out on the playoff, NASCAR expanded the field of Chase participants to 12 drivers.
In the five years in which the Chase has been used to determine the Sprint Cup champion only two drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, have qualified each year.
While a streak of five consecutive years may not sound impressive when put up against Cal Ripken, Jr. or Brett Favre, it is worthy of mention when considering those who were not able to do it.
Former Sprint Cup champions Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch are among those who have been unable to pull off the feat. Add to that list the names of perennial contenders Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne and the accomplishment grows in stature.
Kenseth had only one victory along with a season full of Top 5 and Top 10 consistency while winning the 2003 Sprint Cup title. Many believe it was that championship run which gave rise to the Chase format.
Although he has qualified for the Chase in every year it has been held, he has failed to win the playoff.
Johnson has made much more of his Chase qualifications. He has taken the title in each of the past two seasons. He is bidding to become only the second driver in modern NASCAR history to win the championship over three consecutive years. Cale Yarborough is to date the only driver to have pulled that off.
While five consecutive seasons of making the Chase for the Championship may not match Ripken or Favre, it does place Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth as the sole members of a very exclusive club.
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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