The Chase for the Championship has brought a little extra attention in the final 10 races while NASCAR goes toe-to-toe with the National Football League, but very little of that has been spent on drivers who aren’t in the playoffs.
Unlike their counterparts in football, basketball, baseball and hockey, teams aren’t eliminated during the playoffs just because they’re out of championship contention.
Twelve drivers race for a title; everyone else is racing for attention and trophies.
“Certainly throughout the event, it’s a little bit more challenging getting some TV time, but that’s a product of missing the Chase,” Kyle Busch said. “That’s kind of what you get. It’s our own fault. Those three points (we missed the Chase by) that could have meant an awful lot throughout the season to get us into the top 12.”
Busch is one of many drivers who didn’t qualify for the Chase. That means he doesn’t have any weekly media commitments during the final 10 races. It also means he probably won’t be interviewed unless he either wins a race during the Chase, or he does something to make headlines in a negative manner.
Even then, that attention generally is short-lived. During the last three months of the racing season, the only thing that seems to matter is the teams in the playoffs.
“It’s harder to do justice to my sponsors, but other than that it’s not harder to race,” Ryan Newman said. “We’re already at a disadvantage trying to get sponsors for next year and beyond when we’re not in the Chase this year. But we put ourselves in that position. I’m disappointed because of that, but I’m not mad.”
Busch and Newman are just two of the high-profile racers who struggle to attract attention to themselves, their race teams or their sponsors during the Chase. Others seemingly on the outside looking in include: Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Marcus Ambrose, David Ragan, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya.
If they were in any other sport, their season already would be done. At least, they have a chance to steal the spotlight – if for only a moment – at the expense of others.
“It’s my job to go out there and win the race,” Newman said. “It’s no different than it was during the first 26 races (of the regular season).”
The 12 Chase drivers aren’t making it any easier on the have-nots. Not only are they racing for a championship, they’ve dominated the first four races of the playoffs. Brad Keselowski has won twice during the Chase, while Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth each have one victory.
All three are in the championship picture.
Kenseth won last Sunday’s crash-filled race at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Jeff Gordon, another Chaser, finished second. Busch finished third and was prepared to give most of the spotlight to others.
“It’s a big challenge, but it’s been a challenge for me anytime there’s a day without drama to get TV interviews afterward,” Busch said. “I’ve had a second-place, third-place, fourth-place, fifth-place and sixth-place finish this year (during the regular season) with no drama throughout the race and don’t get a TV interview.
“It is no different than we have to deal with any other week.”
As the playoffs evolve, drivers who fall too far behind will likely face the same dilemma of those who didn’t qualify for the championship. Heading into Saturday night’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. already are far behind in the standings. Anything less than a victory means they’re chances are gone – along with any hope of getting any attention the rest of the way.