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Drivers don't want changes to the Chase

November 01, 2008|Jim Peltz | Peltz is a Times staff writer.

Fort Worth — Tweak NASCAR's Chase again? Jeff Burton doesn't want to hear about it.

With Jimmie Johnson headed toward a third consecutive Sprint Cup Series title even though three races remain, calls are surfacing to alter NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoff -- again -- to inject more drama into the format.

But Burton and several other drivers said Friday that the format is fine and Johnson simply deserved to be in front.

And Johnson himself said he's tired of defending his stellar performance and even-keel temperament simply because they might drain excitement from the Chase.

"We all want to change the rules when the rules don't work for us," Burton said Friday before qualifying for Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Talk of altering the Chase again "is ridiculous," said Burton, a two-time winner at Texas who drives the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. "If the 48 [Johnson] wins this championship, it's because they did it better than everybody else."

Jeff Gordon won the pole position Friday with a lap of 188.469 mph on the 1.5-mile, high-banked TMS oval. Gordon, a four-time champion and Johnson's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, is looking for his first win in more than a year and his first at Texas.

Martin Truex Jr. qualified second at 188.003 mph and will start on the outside of the front row.

Johnson, who grew up in El Cajon, Calif., leads Carl Edwards by a sizable 183 points in the Chase. Greg Biffle trails Johnson by 185 points and Burton is fourth, 218 behind.

Barring disaster, Johnson is expected to clinch the title next week at Phoenix and be crowned champion again in the season finale Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Chase was created in 2004 following a season in which Matt Kenseth won the title with consistent top-10 finishes but with only one victory.

NASCAR, hoping to add late-season drama to its top series, designed a format in which the top 10 drivers in points after the first 26 races competed in the Chase over the season's remaining 10 races.

After Kasey Kahne barely made the Chase in 2006 despite winning six races, NASCAR tweaked the Chase in 2007 to include 12 drivers and to award bonus points for wins in the regular season.

But Johnson's big lead this year is prompting some observers to suggest even more changes -- such as creating a separate points system for the Chase field -- to tighten the Chase standings.

Burton rejected the notion and reminded the media that they helped push for the Chase as it now stands.

"All you guys said winning doesn't mean as much as it should," Burton said. "Well, you got it. [The Chase] rewards winning, it rewards running up front, it rewards leading laps, it does everything that you guys all thought was really cool.

"The media, the drivers, the car owners, sponsors, we can't every time something doesn't work for us turn around and say the system is wrong," he added.

Johnson, who qualified seventh for Sunday's race, said "it's funny to see how that pops up" about changing the Chase again, considering that Kyle Busch won eight races in the regular season and was thought a heavy favorite to win the Chase. But Busch finished poorly early in the Chase and Johnson -- his team peaking at just the right time -- climbed into the lead.

"We all know we didn't get off to a good start" this season "and we had to work very hard to be in this position," Johnson said.

And his personality? "I'm my own personality and my own driver, and I really feel like I've created my own mark in this sport," he said. "To be honest with you, I don't really care what people think anymore."

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said there are no changes planned for the Chase.





2008 Sprint Cup driver standings:



1. Jimmie Johnson


2. Carl Edwards


3. Greg Biffle


4. Jeff Burton


5. Kevin Harvick


6. Jeff Gordon


7. Clint Bowyer


8. Tony Stewart


9. Matt Kenseth


10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.




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