Each March, thousands of basketball fans put the pen to the paper and spend hours filling out their NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket. In fact, some say “Bracketology” has become a science of sorts. NASCAR TV broadcaster Bob Dillner thinks that same thought process can be applied to NASCAR’s new version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup as it begins this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL.
“This week is really cool because I am hearing that people are filling
out their brackets for the Chase like basketball fans do for the NCAA
brackets in March,” Dillner said. “Fans are pumped up about it, but
it’s serious business to determine who has momentum on their side or
who is better at what tracks in each round. Plus, fans are able to fill
out a bracket to have a chance to win $100,000 on NASCAR.com, if
they have a perfect bracket. It gives the fans a sense of competition
amongst themselves in addition to the battles we will see on the
Dillner feels that this is one of the greatest things to happen in
“I think a lot of people are saying ‘WHAT?’ to my thought of this being one of the greatest things for our sport. I think it adds an element of anticipation and excitement that we have never seen before,” Dillner explained. “It’s a do-or-die time for these race car drivers. Just like in the NCAA tournament or the NFL playoffs, if you don’t do well in a round, you could be done. It’s now the same as in other sports, you could see the No.1 seed not make the second round or third round of the tournament.
“Brad Keselowski is the No.1 seed by virtue of his four victories this year. He could have three awful weeks in the first round and not advance to the next round of the championship.”
It’s a whole new world for each driver, who’s sole goal is making it to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
“The winners of the three races in each of the first three rounds know they are automatically guaranteed to go to the next round. Take a driver like Kevin Harvick; he has hit some home runs this year in terms of victory, and his team has had some mistakes that resulted in poor finishes. Those bad finishes can be wiped away very easily in a single big hit, which is taking the checkered flag in one of the three races in that round. I think this may payoff for a team like that.
“If you win the first race at Chicagoland, the monkey is off your back to advance to the second round, or quarter finals you could call them. But, you could also still have a bad race at Chicagoland and New Hampshire and yet go to Dover and hoist Miles the Monster trophy over your head and make the next round.”
Is consistency still a factor in NASCAR?
“People have to remember how the Chase grid will break down,” Dillner said. “You have three races in the first round. Points are still important, especially in the opening round. I think that is something easily forgotten. There will be three winners, but another nine will advanced completely based on the points collected. Consistency will still payoff, but it means less as you advance each round.”
Dillner thinks that one race to keep an eye on in the 10-race chase will be the last race in the Contender Round at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19th.
“Talladega is going to be nuts. Drivers going for the championship won’t be getting any sleep, their stomachs will be churning, and it could be complete misery for the week leading up to it,” Dillner said. “Everyone knows that this race could be a make or break to a driver’s championship hopes.
“The Talladega race is where everyone in the field knows they can win. The big one can destroy a championship run in a heartbeat. It makes it emotional for everyone involved.”
Dillner also likes the idea of one race with four drivers going for the title.
“The championship race is a dash for cash and the trophy, just like the Super Bowl. It’s one race just like the Super Bowl is one game. It’s winner-take-all. Forget about points; this will be the final four drivers battling for all it’s worth in a single race for the championship. This could be the most exciting season finale that we will ever see in the history of NASCAR. Even better than what we saw in 1992 with Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison duking it out at Atlanta.”
So whom does Dillner have in his final four bracket?
“I am on record with having Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick going for it at Homestead,” Dillner said. “This might be Jeff’s last best chance at winning his fifth championship because we all believe retirement is around the corner for him.
“Team Penske has been strong all year long, but the Eliminator Round could be a challenge for them. Their performance at Martinsville will be key for both Keselowski and Logano. That race is always dominated by other drivers and they will need to step it up.”
Overall, the Chase will be fun to watch but Dillner realizes that the next ten races will be a mental challenge and full of emotions.
“You win and you are in will be the same mentality throughout the Chase. A driver gets a win in a round and the weight of the world is lifted off of them until the next round. A win means millions of sponsor dollars for the teams if they are able to advance through the grid. Momentum will be key to get off on a good start. You don’t want to be the driver who has a bad Chicagoland and New Hampshire, and then try to go to Dover and defeat Miles the Monster.
“Bracketology, or The Chase Grid as it’s officially called, will make this the most drama filled Chase we have ever seen for drivers and fans alike. Get ready, it starts this Sunday!”