Keselowski withholds judgment on new Chase format

Drew Davison
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.

In Brad Keselowski's mind, it's still too early to tell if NASCAR got it right with its new Chase format.

The driver of the No. 2 Ford isn't ready to declare the knockout-style rounds a rousing success. That's somewhat surprising, considering his thoughts were shared a day after he won a drama-filled race at Talladega to advance to the Eliminator Round.

You can't get much better "Game 7 moments" than that.

"At the end of the day, what validates any format, to me personally at least, is if we look back and we have better ratings, better ticket sales and better numbers in general, more fan popularity," Keselowski (Rochester Hills) said. "That's what's behind any change we make in the sport. So if we see increases in those metrics, then I'd say, 'Yes, we've been successful.' Beyond that I don't know if it's really fair for me to answer because I'm kind of too close to the fire."

The only noticeable problem with the format is that, yes, some stars are going to have their championship dreams end earlier than expected. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were two big names to drop out of the mix after Talladega.

So did the polarizing Kyle Busch, who thought he clinched a spot in the next round with a third-place run at Kansas two weeks before that.

That leaves a somewhat uninspiring final eight drivers. Jeff Gordon is the only real household name left, and those who are your average racing fans would recognize names such as Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.

But that's what every sport faces. Sometimes you end up with a great Final Four or Super Bowl matchup, while other times you're left wondering how someone made it that far.

"I doubt anyone had these exact eight in this position right now," Hamlin said. "There's so many variables in this, you just never know who is going to be in what position. You try to capitalize each and every time."

The intensity and drama that the format inherently produces is what's going to make or break it down the stretch. So far, NASCAR has avoided having any non-Chase contender win a race.

But that possibility remains, especially with a shrinking field. Don't be surprised if someone who is out of contention wins this weekend at Martinsville. Johnson has won there eight times, Tony Stewart three times, and Busch twice.

Even if that happens, it won't be a bad thing for the sport. Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage believes the format is living up to its potential.

"Some people are a little upset because their driver didn't advance or whatever," Gossage said. "Under the old format their driver wouldn't have advanced. They wouldn't be in the hunt for the championship so the way this works, It's creating drama at every event in the Chase, whether it's the first, second or third race in that round. I think it's fabulous."

We'll see if everyone thinks it's fabulous by the end of the season.

Sprint Cup

Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500

Track: Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway (oval, 0.526 miles)

Schedule: Friday, practice (Fox Sports 1, noon-1:30 p.m.), qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 4:30-6 p.m.); Saturday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 9-10 a.m., noon-1 p.m.); Sunday, race, 1:45 p.m. (ESPN, 1-5:30 p.m.)

Distance: 263 miles (500 laps)

Last year: Jeff Gordon raced to his eighth Martinsville victory to tie Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the lead among active drivers at the track.

Last week: Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) won at Talladega to earn a spot in the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He has a series-high six victories.


Kroger 200

Track: Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway (oval, 0.526 miles)

Schedule: Friday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 1:30-2:30 p.m., 3-4:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 10-11:30 a.m.), race, 1:45 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, 1-3:30 p.m.)

Distance: 105.2 miles (200 laps)

Last year: Darrell Wallace Jr. became the second black driver to win on NASCAR's national level.