Updated: October 15, 2012, 7:56 PM ET

Chase coming down to 1.5-mile prowess?

Blount By Terry Blount

One team rolled the dice on fuel because that was the only chance it had to get back into championship contention.

It worked for Clint Bowyer, who made it to the checkered flag Saturday night at Charlotte and kept his title hopes alive in the No. 15 Toyota.

Another team also rolled the dice on fuel because, well, that's what it does. The conservative approach is not in its playbook.

This time it didn't work out for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Dodge team, running dry late in the race. But Keselowski remains on top in the standings (seven points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, 15 ahead of Denny Hamlin and 28 on top of Bowyer) with half of the 10 Chase races complete.

Whether it's fuel mileage, overall speed or pit-road efforts, the team that wins the championship will have to get it done on the 1.5-mile ovals, the so-called and much-maligned cookie-cutter tracks.

The drivers race on their second consecutive 1.5-mile oval this weekend at Kansas Speedway, a track with brand new pavement for the teams to figure out.

Half the Chase races take place on intermediate ovals, including three of the five events remaining. And some fans don't like it, because these tracks haven't produced the best racing in recent years.

These tracks often have long green-flag runs, as was the case Saturday night at Charlotte, which increases the chances of a fuel-mileage finish.

It wasn't that long ago when 1.5-mile ovals were a rarity on the Cup schedule. In 1996, the series had only two 1.5-mile tracks -- Charlotte and Atlanta -- out of 18 facilities. Charlotte and Atlanta had two events each on a 31-race schedule, which accounted for 13 percent of the season.

Cup now has eight 1.5-mile ovals out of 23 tracks, which account for 11 of 36 races (31 percent), but that number is magnified in the Chase where the cookie-cutters dominate the playoff events.

The 1.5-mile ovals were the wave of the future starting in the mid-1990s -- Texas, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, Kansas and Kentucky all built to that spec. NASCAR attendance was booming and the tracks seemed perfect to keep the good times rolling -- lots of seats, lots of amenities and fast racing in mostly major markets.

But things changed. The economy went bust and sellouts became rare. The Car of Tomorrow chassis, which debuted in 2007, was a dramatic improvement in safety, but not the best thing for racing on the intermediate ovals.

NASCAR had plans to build smaller tracks in Seattle, New York and Denver, but those plans were put on hold in the down economy.

Maybe those tracks will be built in the future, but the 1.5-mile ovals aren't going away. These tracks are some of the sport's newest and best facilities, located in much-needed big markets across the country.

So the answer is to make the cars race better on the 1.5-mile tracks. The new car that debuts next season may help (with new noses and tails and a look closer to production models), but it's still the COT chassis.

NASCAR also is opening up the testing rules next season, allowing teams to test at four tracks of their choice. That also could improve the racing on the intermediate ovals.

"The testing especially," Jeff Gordon said at Charlotte. "With [NASCAR] opening up the testing to get more laps and more information for Goodyear, for us, for NASCAR, and all the teams to just get as comfortable with a new body style; I think that is a very good thing."

For now, whether it's fuel-mileage calculations or other things, the championship of this Chase will be decided by which team does the best job on the 1.5-mile ovals.

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Nationwide Series: Logano proves power of JGR cars

Joey Logano now has won eight races in 18 Nationwide starts this year, including his victory Friday night at Charlotte. Kyle Busch, who has 51 career wins in the series, is winless in 18 starts this season.

What does that tell you? It tells you that Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide cars are pretty darn good. Logano is driving one; Busch isn't this year, racing his own Nationwide team cars.

Busch has 39 victories driving a JGR car in Nationwide. All 17 of Logano's Nationwide victories have come in JGR equipment, but that will end next year when he moves to Penske Racing to try to make his Sprint Cup career more successful than it has been at JGR.

As for the real Nationwide Series competitors, Elliott Sadler has a 13-point lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with four races remaining.

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Camping World Truck Series: Gearing up for Martinsville

The Camping World Truck Series is on a three-week hiatus before returning to action on Oct. 27 at Martinsville, the first of four consecutive races to close out the season and determine the 2012 champion.

Rookie Ty Dillon, trying to make it back-to-back CWTS titles for the Dillon brothers, has a 1-point lead over James Buescher.

Ty is driving the No. 3 Chevy truck team that his brother, Austin, drove to the 2011 championship for grandfather and team owner Richard Childress.

Ty, 20, would become the youngest champion in series history, breaking the record his brother set last year at age 21.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.


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