MIAMI -- Virtually every feasible story has been told and retold this Chase season, but one has gone underappreciated, if not downright overlooked: Jeff Gordon's true selflessness.
And I don't mean the Victory Lane adoration and admiration for his teammate during the past month. That's well-chronicled.
To know Gordon's true leadership, you must go back six years to Jimmie Johnson's rookie season, 2002. The No. 48 team was a start-up, had no cars. So the 24 team handed them some. Several. And not just any ol' race cars, either. Race-winning race cars. Turn-key. Here you go, man. Flip the toggle switch, stand on it and turn left.
And that's just the physical proof. Think about the mental variable. It's easy for the organization's established star to open his heart and mind to the hot young teammate initially.
Until the new guy starts winning.
And keeps winning.
Suddenly Mr. Establishment -- the franchise -- feels threatened, pride takes over and the whole fairy tale unravels.
Gordon never bothered with any of that, and the result is a championship-caliber season for both cars.
A top-10 finish this weekend earns Gordon the record for most top-10s ever in a NASCAR Cup season: 30. Phenomenal.
And unless Johnson has trouble, it won't be good enough. In Gordon's eyes, it's not good enough, anyway. He said himself he doesn't want to win by way of someone else's misfortune. He wants to earn it.
If Johnson prevails, Gordon will have earned a second consecutive championship as an owner.
His selfless approach is a big reason, and Gordon deserves more credit for that.
We New Englanders are concerned for our track. New Hampshire is a great NASCAR track and we love it here. Are we going to lose our races next year?
-- Wendy Nazereth, Boston
You won't lose a race next year, Wendy, the schedule is set. But in 2009, expect to have just one. Bruton Smith covets a second date in Las Vegas, and will almost certainly send one of the New Hampshire dates there. That will, in turn, potentially shake up the Chase schedule. Moving the first Chase date to Texas Motor Speedway is the thought right now.
The New Hampshire-to-Vegas dynamic is somewhat a Catch-22, in my opinion. New England is presently among the most progressive NASCAR markets. It's a good place for folks to like NASCAR. New Hampshire sells out every race it hosts. It's not a no-brainer to up and ship a date west. But that's what will likely happen.
Should there be some point bonus in the Chase for where you finish the "regular season" -- give first an extra 120 points, second 110, etc? Maybe an extra 20-50 points for leading by more than 200 points at the end of the regular season. It just doesn't seem fair. At least Gordon's kept up the consistency.
-- Andy Ingram, Hometown Unknown
There should certainly be a benefit to leading the championship points standings after the 26th race. Jeff Gordon forfeited a 312-point lead after the 26th race this season. I just can't bring myself to accept that as truly fair. Sustained excellence offers teams in other sports a benefit, be it home-field advantage or possibly even a first-round bye.
I'm all for making winning matter more in the Cup Series, and NASCAR took a pivotal step in that direction this season. But consistency still matters in this sport and should be rewarded.
The old school of thought was that once the Chase started, consistency prevailed. This Chase has shown that winning matters. Gordon is averaging a fifth-place finish over the past nine races -- he has tallied more total points in nine races than Johnson collected in 10 races while winning the 2006 title -- and it's not good enough.
I am in full agreement that the soon to be Nationwide Series needs some work done to not stay Cup Lite, but not awarding points is not the full answer. People like Carl Edwards and Rudy who are running the full Nationwide Series deserve the points, and the chance at the big year-end trophy.
I can see no points for part-timers, but someone running the full schedule deserves the chance to be the champ!
-- Eric, Owego, N.Y.
By all means, Eric. Drivers committed to running the entire slate should certainly be eligible to collect championship points like anyone else. They're committed to the series.
It's the point structure of the one-off part-timers that should be altered. There are much potential politics involved in that, though, given that the current trend is for sponsors to flock to Cup drivers.
The full commitment, to me, is key. It adds credibility for the series overall.
With drivers now traveling by plane to races, testing days and sponsor events, who is actually paying for that? Do the drivers own their own planes? Do they pay for the pilots and fuel and other maintenance or do they have it written into their contracts to have the costs covered that way?
With as much traveling as they do those expenses have to add up so I wondered who took care of it. Thanks!
-- Chris, Ankeny, Iowa
Many of the drivers do have their own planes and employ their own pilots, Chris. And it depends on the nature of the function to which they're going who actually pays for the fuel.
If they're headed to a sponsor function or speaking engagement, the sponsor will often pick up that tab. Most of those things are worked into the contracts, via travel allowances.
Is it me, or does Sam Hornish Jr. look like the French guy from Talladega Nights? Hate him already!
That, folks, is funny.
Be good. One to go.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.