While shooting a commercial at a swanky Lake Norman, N.C., estate, Tony Stewart graciously spends the (substantial) downtime between takes answering some rather personal questions with an attendee. (Check back next week for that column.)
At some point in the late stages of the conversation, the Chase format is broached, specifically whether it's flawed.
Overall it works well, but in my estimation it includes a fundamental flaw that is quite unfair to the 12 teams involved. Stewart agrees.
In my estimation it's time NASCAR implemented a separate points system for the teams in the Chase. Again, Stewart agrees.
Score it however you please, but if Driver X is racing only 11 other guys for a title during the final 10 events, he should only be scored against those 11.
To back up that sentiment, I confidently polled five Nextel Cup drivers not named Stewart, three in the Chase, two out.
"Why the hell would you think that?"
"No, let's just race. They're already lucky enough to race for a championship, anyway."
Well, alrighty then. I guess Smoke and I are alone on this, although one of the Chase drivers polled admitted, "Ask me after I wreck and I'll give you a different answer." Funny.
As it stands, the 31 non-Chase drivers in the field each week have entirely too much influence over the season's outcome.
Kansas is the prime example. How is it fair to Kyle Busch to get run over by a non-Chaser, finish last in the field and receive 41st-place points, when in fact he finished 12th among those he's racing in the big picture?
He should receive 12th-place points. Not 41st.
He was 11 positions worse than the best Chase finisher, Clint Bowyer, in the big picture. Not 41 positions worse.
Some folks say the non-Chase drivers will be slighted if scored separately from those in the championship hunt. That doesn't fly. The 12 Chasers are separated from the 31 non-Chasers the moment the checkers fly at Richmond. At that moment, not only should the Chase drivers' points be reset, but they should be scored separately from the other 31 the remainder of the way, too.
It's only fair. If you ask me, anyway.
Maybe that's why I'm behind a keyboard and Mike Helton has a corner office in Daytona.
Why is NASCAR allowing rookies or first-time drivers to enter the Chase for the Cup? Other sports require teams or individuals to play in the regular season to participate in the playoffs. Why let [Jacques] Villeneuve race at Talladega?
-- Mike, Spokane, Wash.
Here's how it works: A group of NASCAR officials convenes on such things and looks at the driver's experience level, the tracks on which he's run and the success attained on those tracks. NASCAR took one look at Villeneuve's résumé and considered it a no-brainer.
There's no question the man can drive. It's not about that. He's won at the absolute pinnacle.
But he hasn't run three-wide at Talladega.
That's the issue, here. Charlotte? Fine. Martinsville? Fine. Just not Talladega. Now, Talladega is the easiest track to drive -- by oneself. I think Michael Waltrip once said a drunken monkey could qualify at Talladega.
But the intricacies of racing there are so precise, and the margin of error so tiny and the cost of the slightest misjudgment of distance so high, it's just not the right environment for a rookie regardless of his talent level.
"It's unacceptable," Jeff Burton said. "I don't think it's a good decision. I'm a big believer in [Villeneuve's] talent. His record speaks for itself. But it's poor judgment to let him run his first race in that environment. It's just not the right environment for first-time driver -- I don't care what his talent level is.
"Now, he might go out and win the race. He may run very well. But it would be smarter to get him some more experience. He's run what, one NASCAR race? He'd be much better off having more experience first in other forms of NASCAR."
Given all that's at stake in the Chase, I'm surprised NASCAR is allowing it.
I'm a huge IndyCar fan, but my drivers (Franchitti and Hornish) are heading over to NASCAR. We've always considered NASCAR rednecks and weak racing. IndyCar racing is so much better. So why are they going there? You always give great insight, and I badly need you to give me some of it this time.
-- Jacob, Montreal
I don't rightly know whether to consider that a compliment or a slight, Jacob. I'm a NASCAR guy. Call me a redneck if you wish. It's all a matter of perspective, I reckon. I grew up in the South watching Davey Allison in the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Thunderbird. I couldn't have cared less about Unser or Fittipaldi or Rahal. Couldn't relate. Didn't respect it.
These days it's different. I admire all forms of racing. IndyCar competition is awesome. NHRA, too.
Anyway, to your question: The answer is simple, yet comprised from many parts. First of all, open-wheel stars are being lured to NASCAR by competition. Sounds hokey. Sounds like a cop-out. But I believe it.
Rest assured, the money and the safety and the stability of the NASCAR industry don't hurt, either.
I asked Juan Pablo Montoya -- the spearhead for the migration -- that very question at the Franchitti announcement Wednesday. Why are so many open-wheel stars moving to NASCAR?
"The racing is unbelievable, that's the reason," Montoya said, stone-faced serious. "Is it the most sophisticated cars in the world? No. But it's the best racing. In Europe you have Formula 1. In America, it's NASCAR. They are very similar."
So why did Franchitti, following a career year, come over? A new challenge. He was ready last year, in fact. He was in line for the No. 42 Dodge until Montoya picked up the phone and called Chip Ganassi. Sorry, Dario.
"There was one guy on the planet that could have called and taken him out of that car, and he called," Ganassi said.
Franchitti was admittedly disappointed to lose out to Montoya, but it most certainly worked out for the best. Indianapolis 500 champ. IndyCar champ. Sayonara. Oh, and in the end he got the Ganassi Dodge anyway.
"That definitely made the decision easier," Franchitti said of his success during the 2007 IndyCar campaign.
You know what Marty?
NASCAR was a lot more fun when it was run by good ol' boys instead of all these corporate money-hungry types that Brian France has surrounded himself with. I also find it hilarious that the sport was more organized and made a lot more sense when it was ran by "hicks" like us than it is in its current state. Screw New York, bring back the rednecks!!!
-- Jason, Blacksburg, Va.
I can't lie. Jason made the cut because he made me laugh out loud.
When is NASCAR going to make some actual black-and-white lines and stick to them? There is no way that Greg Biffle won that race at Kansas. What is reasonable speed? Shouldn't he have to keep up with the pace car?
I loved it when Jim Hunter said that if Biffle would have run out of gas on the backstretch, the results would have been different. What does that mean? He still didn't make it to the finish line first.
They need to change the rule to say that the drivers must maintain car/pit road speeds under caution. I guess it was a perfect ending to an otherwise crazy day. Keep up the good writing. I still agree with you, as my shirt says.
-- Scott C, Tipp City, Ohio
NASCAR got it right, Scott. Should the rule be more finite? Probably. But given the shade of gray in which it's currently written, they got it right. It's not as if Biffle stopped on the racetrack. He wasn't wrecked. He crossed the finish line at 40 mph instead of 55. It may be fundamentally suspect, but don't hold your breath waiting for NASCAR to change the rulebook.
Some folks want to compare this to Robby Gordon at Montreal. There is no comparison. None. Gordon stopped. Gordon was wrecked.
If I were Clint Bowyer I'd be incensed. If the rule were enforced differently he wins that race. With a green-white-checker finish, he also probably wins that race. Karma is for real. I have a feeling that one will come back to him at some point.
I listen to you and Jimmie on XM, and I know you watch reality TV with your wife. Have you seen Helio Castroneves on "Dancing With The Stars"? He is awesome!
-- Gina Lackey, Indiana
Indeed, Gina, he is awesome. My wife and I are extremely impressed. Step on up, A.C. Slater.
Plus, his dance partner is hotter than fish grease.
Big Scott Riggs fan. I saw your report tonight on Scott going to Haas. Is this really an improvement? They haven't done much since they entered Nextel Cup. I don't think they've ever even won a race, have they?
-- Ken Thomas, Fayetteville, N.C.
No, they've not yet won a Cup race, Ken. But I have no doubt Riggs can succeed at Haas, so long as they get ample financial backing. He won't be third fiddle any longer, and Haas has some great racing minds over there with Bootie Barker, Matt Borland and Harold Holly.
They have every state-of-the-art gizmo available, including a seven-post shaker rig and all the bells and gadgetry that accompany it.
And, fact is, right now both Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter are higher in points than Riggs is. Given Haas' association with Hendrick Motorsports, it has the foundation for a competitive program. This sport is about people and chemistry, and I think a Riggs/Barker combo would be quite potent.
That's it for this week. A ride on Thomas the Train with my son beckons. Y'all be good.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.