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Analysis: Consistency in the Chase gets rewarded

By Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

By no means is this the "Final Four" that NASCAR hoped for in its first season under a new Chase format.

It's light on star power and heavy on forced storylines. It's not a good thing when one of the main storylines is having a "first-time championship driver."

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but the four drivers don't exactly energize a fan base. There's a big difference between Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kyle Busch driving for his first championships than a Ryan Newman or Denny Hamlin.

"The people that outcry this system is bad is when their favorite driver doesn't make it," Hamlin countered. "The system is fine. It's exciting. Every race is exciting. There's not been one boring race, and every race, it comes down to somebody on a restart or something.

"This is the best thing that's happened to this sport in a really long time. Just because your favorite driver doesn't make it, it could go the other way for them next year. Let's just leave this thing alone for a little while."

Hamlin is right. For the most part, the format has worked out well, creating intensity among drivers and producing much-needed drama as the season winds down.

It's just ending with a dud, as each driver left in championship contention isn't someone who stirs interest.

Kevin Harvick is the biggest name left and the odds-on favorite to win it all. A championship is all that's really missing from his resume, but he isn't a household name.

Joey Logano is a rising star in the sport and in the midst of a career year. But, for whatever reason, he isn't overly popular like some drivers. Hamlin is in a similar boat, a driver who has been consistently good that doesn't quite have the appeal.

And, finally, there's Newman. He's a nice enough guy who made a bold move last week to earn a spot in the championship round, but he's becoming more of the poster boy for what's wrong with this format than what's right.

Newman has led a grand total of 41 laps this season — 21 drivers have led more laps than him. He has four top-five finishes — 14 drivers have more top-five runs than him. He has yet to win a pole — 14 drivers have won a pole this year.

But, somehow, Newman has managed to sneak in every round and very well could end up with a win-less championship.

"We're just doing our job," Newman said. "We've kept ourselves in the hunt. We're doing our job and having fun doing it."

You can't blame Newman or, really, the system. It's been designed to reward race winners as well as give an opportunity to drivers who have been consistent.

That's how these four drivers have survived and advanced through the system. Give them credit and, come Sunday, one will be crowned a champion for the first time.

Can't wait, right?