The new Chase format was a shot in the dark.
January brought news of changes. Drastic, NFL-like changes, ones that seemed severe and intriguing. Pitting four drivers against each other for one deciding race was a difficult idea to accept. Being open-minded, fans sat and watched the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season unfold with anticipation.
Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman used victories, consistency, and strategy to slide into the Final Four. Ironically enough, those same factors played a significant role in determining who won the championship (and race) at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The race was full of drama. Cautions, risky pit calls, balls-to-the-wall racing emerged as day shifted into night. Cautions dotted the field, and the anticipation kept rising and rising and rising.
A restart occurred with three to go. No one knew which driver would prevail. Harvick was leading, Newman was on his bumper, and Hamlin still had a shot. The only driver not in contention at the end of the event was Logano, whose pit crew let him down. His car fell of the jack during a crucial stop, and it was all over for the No. 22 team.
The No. 11 slid back on old tires. Rocketman gave it his all. Despite all of this, Happy Harvick prevailed, scoring the victory and the title.
Harvick’s first season with Stewart-Haas Racing turned out to be more than ideal, earning five wins with genius Rodney Childers. The combination was labeled “deadly” from the start, and they two backed it up in the best way possible: with a championship. This also speaks volumes on the time spent at Richard Childress Racing, where he couldn’t grab top honors no matter how hard he raced. He switch was not only a breath of fresh air but also a huge step out of an ominous shadow.
Harvick was known as Dale Earnhardt’s replacement for the longest time. Now, he’s earned his stripes.
Another facet of this event walked on stage and hugged his friend, his driver.
The year that Tony Stewart has endured is heartbreaking. It’s also been difficult for those around him, those who love him. He and Harvick are close. That was apparent when the driver of the No. 4 played defense against cringe-worthy allegations. After going into isolation, Stewart dipped into a dark cavern, one that seemed bottomless.
A championship may not heal his wounds, but it made him smile. That’s a shift in the right direction.
The Chase worked. By God, it worked.
The end of the 2014 season marks many goodbyes. Marcos Ambrose leaves NASCAR to race back home in Australia. Carl Edwards jumps off Roush-Fenway Racing’s ship and joins Joe Gibbs Racing. Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., prepares to join NBC as part of their new NASCAR coverage. Related, ESPN ceases all NASCAR broadcasting rights. We say farewell to some and wish others best of luck in their new endeavors.
Congratulations to all Chase contenders and those who made every race a thrill ride. From the sport’s most popular driver winning the most prestigious race to tempers overflowing and coming to blows, it was one for the ages.
May 2015 be even more invigorating.