Don't write off anybody in the Chase yet

Matt Kenseth comes in for a pit stop during the Geico 400 on Monday. (AFP)

Matt Kenseth comes in for a pit stop during the Geico 400 on Monday. (AFP)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:30 PM ET

TORONTO - There is at least one major NASCAR related website that has four-time champion Jeff Gordon, along with former champion Matt Kenseth and last season’s third-place finisher Denny Hamlin out for the count after just one race of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Okay, all three had really bad days at the Chicagoland Speedway 11/2-mile oval, but to dismiss their chances already is way out to lunch.

Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota squad certainly have the biggest mountain to climb, after finishing 31st on Monday and falling 41 points back of current leader Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Richard Childress Chevrolet team.

That is one whole race behind. It is a tall, tall task, but not one that is impossible.

Kenseth’s 21st place at Chicagoland — he was put back from 10th for getting pushed to the end by J.J. Yeley — drops the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford 24 points back, but remember he was up front for most of the GEICO 400 and led a bunch of laps before being forced to get off the gas to save fuel.

“We were out in the lead there and I didn’t floor it for 30 laps, so it’s just ridiculous,” Kenseth said of he fuel woes. “Honestly, I don’t know what they can do about it but it’s ridiculous ... It is really frustrating to be a race-car driver and they drop the green on the last run of the day when you are supposed to put on a show for the fans and you have to run half-throttle and can’t floor it or you will run out of gas.”

The thing is that except for the fuel problem, Kenseth was in contention right to the end of beating eventual winner Tony Stewart to the checkered flag.

He was that close to being at the top of the points.

And Gordon just had a bad day all around. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was behind the eight ball from the get-go after a poor 24th-place qualifying effort on Saturday.

“We were just off. We didn’t qualify good. That got us behind right there,” Gordon said. “It was just one of those days. You know. We had a right front tear apart. We actually got the car halfway decent there at the end. Then it came down to saving fuel and we obviously didn’t save enough fuel.”

Gordon, however, has shown all season that he and the No. 24 team can bounce back after a bad outing.

So to suggest that Hamlin, Kenseth and Gordon might as well give up now is preposterous.

BERNIE’S BILLIONS

Is it any wonder that Formula One czar Bernie Ecclestone keeps wringing huge profits out of that series?

The latest example of Ecclestone’s turning lead into gold was the news this week that the cancellation of the F-1 race at Bahrain this season will not hurt the bottom line one cent.

According to the billionaire boss, he had the Bahrain Grand Prix organizers pay up front for the sanctioning fees to the 2011 race before it was dropped from the calendar because of political unrest in the middle east kingdom.

“We were paid for Bahrain,” Ecclestone told Britain’s Independent newspaper. “I said we will give them the money back and they said don’t bother. I think the turnover and profit will be more or less the same as 2010.”

That’s why his gadfly daughters can pay more than $100 million US for houses in Los Angeles and London without blinking.

FINISH LINES

Canada’s Robert Wickens may not yet have made it to the ranks of Formula One with the Virgin Marussia team, but the Toronto native will strut his stuff in an unusual manner with other hopefuls this week at the Singapore Grand Prix. Wickens will joins other F-1 test and reserve drivers Karun Chandhok, Romain Grosjean, Jules Bianchi, Sam Bird, Alexander Rossi, Luiz Raziaand Sakon Yamamoto in a special Amber Lounge Fashion Show ... Fox Sports is reporting that RCR competition boss Scott Miller has quit and is heading over to Michael Waltrip Racing, likely to team up again with Clint Bowyer who is also rumoured to be moving to MWR.

STECKLY A SURE THING TO WIN CANADIAN TIRE SERIES

Scott Steckly’s win at Nova Scotia’s Riverside Speedway this past weekend has propelled the Ontario driver into the favourite’s role to pick up is second NASCAR Canadian Tire Championship Saturday at Kawartha Speedway near Peterborough.

In fact with a 91-point cushion over defending series champion D.J. Kennington, Steckly pretty much just has to start his No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge Charger to win his second national championship.

According to NCATS stats, the only way for Kennington and the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge Charger to get past Steckly would be for Kennington to win the race, lead the most laps and for Steckly to finish dead last and not lead a lap.

“We came into the season, like most teams, with this as our goal,” Steckly said. “Everybody has worked really hard to get here. The competition out there is stiff. It’s not that easy.”

Steckly has been on the gas from the beginning of the 12-race NCATS schedule, winning the season opener at Mosport International Speedway and delivering a pair of second-place finishes at the next two stops at Montreal’s ICAR Circuit and London’s Delaware Speedway.

“There’s no doubt that you have to be consistent to win championships and that’s what we’ve tried to do,” Steckly said.

Steckly has also been very careful to stay out of the way of controversy, the likes of which has left more than a few drivers back in the pack this season with petty feuds.

“We try to race as clean as we can — always have — and most guys return the favour,” he said. “And we try to keep an even keel. Enough things are going to go wrong on their own, we don’t need to add to them by making foolish mistakes.”

DEAN’S RANT

Matt Kenseth said it best this week when he vented that fuel-mileage racing — the kind that won Tony Stewart the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway to kick off the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship — cheats the fans for what they paid good money to watch: Real racing.

“It is pretty aggravating to do all the work and qualifying and pit stops and adjustments but none of it makes any difference,” he said. “You are supposed to put on a show for the fans and you have to run half throttle and can’t floor it or you will run out of gas.”

This is no knock on Stewart, he won the race fair and square. But if NASCAR doesn’t want to end up with a deep credibility gap with its fans it has to fix the fuel issue on mile-and-a-half tracks and there are four more of them still on the schedule.

One way to fix the problem is to go back to the larger fuel tanks, making speed and passing more important than pit stops.

If it doesn’t NASCAR will end up resembling Formula One, where virtually all races are won in qualifying. And nobody wants that.

TAGLIANI IS NO GREY BEARD

Alex Tagliani, who prides himself on his appearance and his physical fitness, was branded the oldest driver in the IZOD IndyCar twice this past week at the Indy Japan at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit.

First it was the announcers on the Versus TV crew to proclaimed that Tags was a grey beard and then on Tuesday he was similarly described by Racer.com.

Well Tagliani, at 38, may be creeping up towards the big 4-0, he is not alone that department among IndyCar drivers.

Three-time champion Dario Franchitti is also 38 and Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves will both turn 37 on their next birthdays.

In comparison, Tagliani is just kid compared to NASCAR’s Mark Martin at 52 and F-1’s Michael Schumacher at 42.


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