Lost in the talk of a championship battle between Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick, another battle looms large that many fans may have forgotten about.
When NASCAR expanded the Chase for the Sprint Cup for 10 to 12 drivers in 2007, an asterisk was hung next to the names of the 11th and 12th place drivers: There would be no on-stage presence for those drivers in the season ending banquet.
Every year since 1981, NASCAR has held a postseason banquet for the best performing drivers of the season. Up until last year, the series headed to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, bringing NASCAR to attention in a market that rarely gives it a passing glance. Last season, the banquet moved to Wynn Las Vegas for a NASCAR week in Sin City.
With one race to go in the 2010 season, that top-10 margin is about as thin as the current battle for the actual title. Kurt Busch is currently clinging to the 10th position, with Clint Bowyer—who is still recovering from a 150 point penalty following the fall Loudon race—just five points behind him. Bowyer’s teammate Jeff Burton has only 75 points to make up for that coveted 10th position.
And don’t think these drivers aren’t thinking about it.
Here’s what Bowyer said after this weekend’s race in Phoenix: “We just didn't come away with the finish we deserved. I am proud of my guys. They worked hard on the car all weekend and deserved better. I am looking forward to the final race next weekend in Homestead and getting back in the top 10 in points."
Tony Stewart—who currently sits ninth in the points—isn’t in a much safer position either. Stewart sits just 46 points ahead of 11th-place Bowyer, with Greg Biffle just two more points ahead of Stewart. With a bad day in Homestead, seventh-place Kyle Busch could potentially fall out of the top 10 in points as well.
While not as exciting as the battle for first, a spot on the stage for a driver to thank his team, his sponsors, and his fans means a lot more than what might appear at face value. So while the battle rages on for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead, don’t forget to take a peek at the top 10 in points to see who needs to begin practicing their speeches for the Vegas banquet.