Gluck: NASCAR got Chase drama it needed early – USA TODAY
JOLIET, Ill. âÂ Thereâs a camera operatorÂ at NBC Sports who should get a raise this week âÂ or at least a gift basket from NASCAR.
From high above Chicagoland Speedway, somewhere on the roof of the scoring tower, the camera operator zoomed in on the driver motorhome lot âÂ generally off limits to the media and public âÂ and focused onÂ Jimmie Johnson as he approached Kevin Harvickâs bus following Sundayâs Chase for the Sprint CupÂ playoff opener.
Harvick emerged from his bus with a deceptive smile, put on his sunglasses â and then popped Johnson in the chest. Harvick’sÂ strike was retaliationÂ for a 42nd-place finish he blamed onÂ Johnson, who in moving up the track and into Harvick’s car after a restart, leftÂ Harvick with a tire rub that eventually caused a flat and crash.
VIDEO: Harvick and Johnson confrontation
It wasnât a fight by any means, but the confrontation between two star drivers was enough to make highlight packages on Monday morning news shows (FoxÂ News andÂ CNN among them) and help NASCAR steal some headlines during NFL season.
Now the sport has some dramaÂ heading into the second playoff race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend, and memories of the dull, largely uneventful regular season can quickly be left behind.
Thatâs exactly what NASCAR wants âÂ and what the Chase was created to do.
At New Hampshire, Harvick and Johnson will get asked about their incident and whether it might affect anything on the track moving forward. Meanwhile, everyone will be watching Harvick to see if the defending series champion can repeat his magic from last year and still advance despite his title hopes looking bleak.
Then thereâs Denny Hamlin, who became an easy driver to overlook after he tore his right ACL while playing basketball earlier this month. Now heâs a race winner and locked into the next round; can his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates join him?
And how about Hendrick Motorsports? The team that seemed a bit off all summer showed promising speed at Chicagoland, with renewed hope for Jeff Gordon after some predicted a first-round exit for the retiring four-time champion.
So this yearâs Chase already hasÂ had drama, unpredictable results, major comebacks and clutch performances.
The best part? Itâs just getting started.
And to think,Â there are still some traditionalists who believe the old season-long points format is better for NASCAR. While that might be a fairer way to decide a true champion, it isnât anywhere close as interesting to watch.
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck