NASCAR is locked in

The NBA is on lockdown. Fortunately, all doors are open for business at NASCAR.

Let the good times roll, preferably as fast as possible.

The sport roars into the final weeks of the season energized by one of the most competitive Chases in Sprint Cup history. The Daytona 500 has been recognized as one of the most valuable sports brands in the world, according to the Forbes Fab 40 published last week. Jimmie Johnson is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. — NASCAR's favorite son — is in the competitive scrum to try to win his first Cup title.

"I think the Chase has played out as best as it ever has in its existence," said Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway. "From the energy of the wild card and who was going to get in, to the competitive storylines going on right now."


Brad Keselowski, once left for dead at 28th in the standings, rallying to make the Chase despite breaking an ankle earlier in the season. He is now fourth in points.

•Tony Stewart, who had said he would be wasting a spot in the Chase if he qualified, winning the first two playoff races. He is now seventh in the standings.

•Johnson surging once again, trying to win an incredible sixth consecutive championship. He is third in the standings, only four points behind leader Carl Edwards.

It would be a stretch to assume that NBA fans will suddenly become motor-racing fans if the NBA lockout drags on.

But NASCAR will never have to deal with any strikes or lockouts. Drivers are essentially independent contractors, with no union and no bargaining leverage.

For NASCAR fans, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There are certainly issues the sport is facing — most notably the drop in sponsorships that will have some Cup drivers looking to hitch a ride somewhere next season. But that is just reflective of the tough economic times. Every sport and every industry faces significant challenges it seems.

Despite those issues, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said that interest from the "younger demographic" is up 20 percent. Most races have seen a spike in viewership, including the most recent one in Kansas (4.093 million compared with 3.741 million in 2010).

"I'm not sure we could be any more pleased with how the Chase has unfolded, and really how the season has unfolded," France said last week. "It's still wide open.

"Our hope always is when we get to Homestead (Fla.) for the finale, we have as many drivers in the thick of it as possible. We'll see."

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