There have already been seven races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and yet we haven’t gotten much closer to crowning the 2013 champion. Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are tied for first place while Jeff Gordon sits just 27 point back. ESPN’s Brant James joins Bill to help make sense of the situation.
BL: Jeff Gordon wasn’t even supposed to be competing in the chase. How’d that happen?BJ: Jeff Gordon will tell you that he absolutely should have been competing in the Chase if not for those cheating cheaters and their cheats! At Richmond, he would have raced himself into the playoffs on his own.But believe me, I spoke to him after he got in the Chase, and when he started doing very well, and it was…a big source of pride that he was able to vault past a lot of the other drivers in the standings. He’s not completely in the chase for the title yet, but he’s right on the edge, and if either Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth had a little bobble he could get kind of scary there in the last three races.
BL: Can I get a prediction from you of who will be at the top of the standings before the final race in Miami?
BJ: I’m going to be consistent like I was at the beginning of the Chase and stick with Jimmie. Then I’m going to do exactly what I did also, and I’m going to hedge it because Matt Kenseth is having a phenomenal season also.
It’s interesting because this is the time of year where Jimmie winning those five title has just sort of put the sleep hold on the rest of the field. This last month — in winning those titles historically — he’s great in this stretch, but this year at this type of track where they are going to finish off the season, Matt Kenseth has been a little better. So I guess it depends on whether you like your data aged or fresh is where you’re going to lean. But I still think Jimmie Johnson. I’m going to go with him.
BL: In other NASCAR news Darrell Wallace Jr. took first at Martinsville Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series making him the first African-American to win a touring series since 1963. What sort of future does Mr. Wallace have?
BJ: Wallace is a very good race car driver. I believe he has a future. He’s won in everything he’s been in. He’s a guy that comes from a great racing background. He still has a relationship, business relationship, with Joe Gibbs Racing which is one of the more successful teams in the sport. It’s Matt Kenseth’s team. It’s a very good team, but they don’t have anything firm for next year. He could end up back with Kyle Busch running some truck races next year. He needs — I mean the kid is only 20 years-old — he needs to be racing all the time. He can’t get better just doing this stuff sporadically. Hopefully someone’s going to step up for his sake with a nice big check and get him in a car because he certainly has the talent to be a winner and a competitor in the future.
BL: Last week NASCAR announced that it will require baseline concussion testing in 2014. NASCAR has identified over 30 concussions since 2004 among their drivers, so is the testing overdue?
BJ: Well overdue. Jeff Gordon did this on his own a couple years ago and he’s a leader in the garage. The drivers look to him because he has a lot of common sense, a lot of real world ideas. I think they realize now having a better handle on their health and how their body should be feeling and reacting normally is crucial. I think another milestone in this was a couple years ago when Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a crash in testing — had a bad blow to the head and was involved in just a minor crash a couple of weeks later and ended up missing two races, and that’s a star.
Anytime one of these guys gets knocked out of the seat it’s a very big deal cause they don’t want to give up the seat and it’s a source of pride. It’s what you do. You strap in and go, and the fact that he took himself out of that car, I think showed a lot of people that this is serious, and it is something they all should deal with proactively.