Welcome to the 2016 Wild Card Chase Scramble.
Sonoma Raceway on Sunday. Daytona International Speedway the following Saturday night.
A road-course race and a restrictor-plate race, two juicy elements that can shake up the predictable grid of 16 drivers who will qualify for the postseason to make a run at a championship.
How about a more predictable pick in this crazy scramble? Canadian racer Patrick Carpentier, making his first start since Kansas Speedway in 2011 as a driver for Go FAS Racing in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway?
Everything and everyone is in play. Despite the bouncy up and down of competitive racing this season, it’s certainly been a free-for-all heading to the finish line. There have been seven winners in the last seven Cup races.
The thing is that they’ve all been the usual suspects: all drivers who qualified for the 2015 Chase.
There remains a disconnect between fans who think the Chase is the worst thing ever — too cheesy, too gimmicky — and those who have embraced it wholeheartedly as something NASCAR needed to do to award victories and consistency in the championship equation.
Argue all you want; the dynamics won’t change. So why not embrace the chaos?
Why not allow one or two outliers into the cool-kids club?
“There are 11 races before the Chase cutoff,” said Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds. “What’s interesting about those 11 races is that we have two road courses — this weekend and later on in August at Watkins Glen. You kind of circle those two.
“If we’re truly going to get a wild-card winner, it comes from one of the road courses races or the restrictor-plate race at Daytona.”
Sonoma is first up. There have been 10 different winners in the last 11 races there, including Martin Truex Jr. in 2013. Watkins Glen has a similar vibe, with six different winners over the last six years.
“I was personally very proud of that Sonoma victory,” Truex said. “Winning on a road course shows that you can do more than just turn left in your race car.”
As for the dynamics of the Chase, it really becomes an old-school vs. new-school discussion/debate and hopefully not a bar-room brawl.
“I think there’s still the old-school fan who still likes the old traditional full season,” McReynolds said. “Who is the consistent driver? But I think a good 70-plus, 80 percent of our fans have embraced this Chase. I don’t see how you could not embrace it?
“Look at the last two years. To send four drivers and four teams to the final race of the year and it’s head to head to head. Not only do you have to go to Homestead and run well. You had to go down there and win the race.”
But there are a lot of laps left before we get to Homestead. Who will be in? Who will be out?
And most important, will an outlier crash the festivities?
Iowa on hold
Iowa Speedway had a successful run last weekend, with its first Camping World/Xfinity series doubleheader. Just don’t get your hopes up for a Sprint Cup race weekend there anytime soon.
“We’re happy with the status right now at Iowa,” NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said Monday on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. “We’ve signed multiple-year sanctions with the tracks. … I see our schedule pretty tied up in terms of the Sprint Cup Series and for the foreseeable future.”