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We all know a few things Jeff Foxworthy would say about how to tell if someone might be a redneck. Along those same lines, here's how to tell if someone might be Chase contender:
If you finish fifth on a day when you throw a fit because you think your car is junk and your crew is off its game, you might be a title contender.
Kevin Harvick was furious with his team's effort early in the race at New Hampshire after a bad pit stop that cost him six positions. And Harvick had a car that wasn't up to his standards from the time it rolled off the hauler.
When the checkered flag flew, the No. 29 Chevy had a hard-earned top-5 showing.
It was a textbook example of making the most of a bad situation. It also proved why Harvick can win the Chase. This is why he was the points leader most of the regular season.
"We didn't have a great day or great weekend," Harvick said after the race. "But to come out with a top-5 says a lot of everybody on this team. If we keep doing that on our bad days, we'll be in good shape."
A lot was made of Harvick's in-car radio rant during the race when he blasted his team.
|Kevin Harvick wasn't real happy with the car his team pulled off the hauler in New Hampshire, but they all ended up making the most of it.|
"We can't even run in the top 15 if we have pit stops like that," Harvick told crew chief Gil Martin. "A pretty terrible day, to be honest with you. We had pit calls that were the wrong way, bad pit stops, sucked all weekend."
How shocking. A driver getting mad on the radio in the middle of a race surprises no one, as team owner Richard Childress pointed out.
"I can't blame [Harvick] for coming on there and screaming," Childress said after the race. "I screamed myself, but I was a little kinder than he was."
Harvick gets a little fiery at times because he knows this is the best chance he's ever had to win the championship. Richard Childress Racing is on its game after failing to place a driver in the Chase last season.
All three RCR cars are chasing the title this year. Clint Bowyer won at New Hampshire and Jeff Burton was headed for a top-5 before he ran out of fuel with a couple of laps to go.
"Everybody is proud of everything we've done to get turned around," Harvick said. "If you had told me at the start of the year that the turnaround was going to be as good as it has been, I think we'd all have chuckled a little bit. But you never know. Now everybody is ready to go race and see where we stack up in the end."
And if you continue to post a good finish on a rotten day, you might be a champion.
It's time for NASCAR to end its exclusivity rights for sponsors. Kyle Busch is learning that the hard way this season as a new owner of a Camping World Truck Series team, which is struggling to find sponsorship.
"It's bad for the race teams to have to jump through so many hoops in order to get a sponsor. For instance, I can't thank Sprint enough. They do a great job for us in the Sprint Cup Series, but it locks out Verizon. It locks out AT&T. It locks out any other telecommunication company that you could try to get in.
"The tobacco debacle now with the United States government, that's locked out people that have the money to do it. The people that have the money to do it can't or don't want to do it. The guys that want to do it don't have the money to do it. You're fighting two avenues there. Being a team owner, I'm kind of finding that out."
NASCAR can't do anything about federal laws limiting tobacco advertising, but it can tell incoming sponsors that exclusivity is a thing of the past. If a sponsor wants in, great, but not at the expense of banning all its competitors.
Imagine if Ford officials told NASCAR, "We won't compete any longer if Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota are involved."
In this economy, where sponsors are hard to come by, exclusivity doesn't work. It only keeps out the limited number of companies who can and want to participate.
"There's a lot of guys struggling to find funding," Busch said. "I know a couple guys out there that put sponsors on their trucks for almost a whole year for $250,000 to $300,000. That's flooding the market. That's just killing the truck series. You can't do that."
But all NASCAR teams are going to have to learn to make it work for less, especially in the Cup series. The days of $15 million to $20 million for one season on one car are over.
"It's very hard." Busch said. "Look at Tony Stewart. He's got to find half of a sponsor for next year. Jeff Gordon has to find something for next year. Mark Martin, they have hendrickcars.com. That's not a sponsor. That's Rick Hendrick putting his money on that car.
"You look at a bunch of the Nationwide cars. It's all across the board. [Kevin] Harvick has been struggling trying to find stuff for his truck program, too. It's unfortunate the way the economy is. It's going to be difficult for us race teams to stay in business without being able to have sponsors on our trucks or our cars."
You may have heard that Dario Franchitti is the 2010 oval track champion in the IndyCar Series.
Oh, the irony. The man who couldn't make it work on NASCAR oval tracks is the best of the best on circle tracks in open-wheel.
Franchitti never got a fair shake in NASCAR. So-so equipment didn't help, and an ankle fracture cost him much-needed track time while he was learning the vagaries of stock cars.
We'll never know if things might have worked out under different circumstances, but we do know that Franchitti can get it done turning left in an Indy car.
Twelve of his 16 career victories have come on oval tracks, and 11 of those came on tracks where NASCAR races.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.