The Chase comes to an end

Four years ago today, we were all transfixed in front of our television sets watching the destruction of a New York landmark and the beginning of a new era in America. We should all pause for a moment and reflect upon this changed world, even as we continue to enjoy our shared passions for music, movies, baseball, football, and yes, racing.

Racing has not been seriously threatened by the heightened levels of security since 9/11, but the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath could affect our favorite sport. I don't know how many of my readers are old enough to remember the Great Gas Crisis of 1973, with motorists waiting in long lines, odd/even license plate gas buying days, red/green/yellow flags at gas stations, the 55 mph speed limit, etc.

But one of the topics in those days was the visible use of fuel by race cars. Certain elements of society railed about racing's wasteful ways with gasoline, ignoring the fact that Indy cars burn methanol. However, racing did make changes, with NASCAR shortening some of its 500 mile races to 400. Now, with gas prices at an all-time high, will racing come in for another round of "fuelish" criticism? One can only wait and see.

Speaking of waiting to see, the final round in the NASCAR Nextel Cup "Race to the Chase" at Richmond has not yet been run as I write this, but will be history by the time you read it. Will (did) Jeff Gordon manage to squeak into the top 10? Did Ryan Newman hang on for a spot?

As you read this you will know, so I'm not going to risk sounding like an idiot by making predictions that may already be wrong. What I will do is to comment on the second season of the NASCAR scoring system called the "Chase for the Championship." I can't help but wonder if Brian France isn't second-guessing himself about instituting this "playoff" system, since one of his biggest stars, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., didn't make the cut.

And the other big star, Gordon, depending on what happened last night, may also be out of the playoffs. Will that hurt the box-office gate and the TV ratings? Well, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. lost his life at Daytona four years ago, many expected fans to turn away in droves, but exactly the opposite happened. So maybe this year's Chase scenario will build fans for those drivers who are in play, and further expand NASCAR's octopus-like grasp on U.S. Motorsports. As if it needed the help.

In what seems to be an ever-expanding topic, here's this week's update on "Ladies in Racing." Erin Crocker, the neophyte Busch Grand National driver we wrote about last weekend, had a less than auspicious start in the series.

Crocker crashed in qualifying and started at the back on owner points. Then about halfway through the race she lost control and crashed, taking out Jason Keller and Kenny Wallace in the process. Compared to Danica Patrick's Champ Car debut, not all that good.

If you've followed this year's Toyota Atlantic season (Champ Car's feeder series), you will have noted British female driver Katherine Legge, who won three races and was competitive in every one. Legge has been offered a test in a Champ Car for the PKV Racing team, and may move her timetable for a move to the big leagues up by a year.

"I'm in two minds about next season," said Legge in an interview. "At the moment the plan is Atlantics unless I do something stunning in this test, but I don't know. My ego wants to go to Champ Car right now. Then I'd be ready for the new chassis formula in 2007. I'm going to wait and see how I do in that test."

And I must note that our own local female racers are doing a splendid job, with the top three points positions in Champion Speedway's Hornet division held down by ladies, as well as second place in points in the Legends division. And at Reno-Fernley Raceway, there are a couple of competitive female drivers in the Modified Mini division, scoring wins and top five finishes on a regular basis. Racing: It's not just for the guys anymore!


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