Drivers out of 'Chase' are feeling ignored

Friday, October 22nd 2004, 8:52 am
By: News On 6

Afew years ago, when owner Chip Ganassi first became a major player in auto racing with multiple CART championships, his teams patterned themselves after one of the pro sports teams in Ganassi's hometown.

From the start as an owner and even as his team's success grew, Ganassi compared his team's situation to that of the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates. His goal was to make the most of an efficient, hard-working and somewhat low-budget approach.

Even as his teams (open wheel and stock car) emerged as contenders, he championed an against-all-odds, underdog approach. Eventually, Ganassi's team became one of the "haves" in both series, but he still tries to maintain a "have not" outlook.

At this point of this NASCAR season, Ganassi's approach may be right.

He's with the "have nots," looking at the Chase for the Championship from the outside and, some believe, losing valuable television exposure and possible sponsor support as a result.

Veteran driver Ricky Rudd ranks among those who believe that's the case. He thinks drivers not in contention for the championship get overlooked -- even if they run well.

"If you finish fourth in a race and you run good," by golly you ought to be covered," Rudd told "It's black and white.

"Don't let the TV turn around and build a script out of this thing and cut the guys out of it that need attention and deserve attention. It's not so much the top-10 format, it's what NASCAR has allowed the television network to do."

Still, other storylines have arisen and TV has responded about as well as usual, which means sometimes poorly and sometimes well depending on the situation.

While NASCAR would argue otherwise ("We've worked hard with TV in terms of getting coverage for drivers outside the top 10," says series spokesman Mike Zizzo), Rudd does make a good point. Some drivers get overlooked.

Honestly, some may deserve to get overlooked. Still, the situation provides an opportunity for NASCAR to adapt and adjust. Series officials have instituted a cash bonus for the driver who finished 11th in the series standings. Those "through the field" TV features that try to touch on as many drivers as possible during a race also help.

But, there needs to be more. Some recognition for the driver not in the top 10 who earns the most points during the final 10 races of the season might be a step in the right direction.

It's a serious matter, too, because if it's not addressed the gap between the "haves" and "have nots" could grow enough to hamper the sport.

Terrific Tony

Not enough attention was paid to the season crafted by Indy Racing League champion Tony Kanaan.

He finished all 3,305 laps in the series, and used that amazing consistency to power his championship. No driver in any major series had ever finished every lap of every race.

Even for Kanaan, the non-stop effort during 16 races over the nine-month season, was surprising.

"This car never stopped," Kanaan said after last week's season-ending Chevy 500. "You know how many million pieces that could fail on this car or how many positions I could put myself in that I could be out of the race? What we did, it's remarkable."

Even any complaints about the state of open-wheel racing do not diminish Kanaan's effort. He's right. It's remarkable.