NASCAR's Chase momentum seems stalled heading into Week 2

LOUDON NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Fans fill the grandstands during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19 2010 in Loudon New Hampshire. (Photo by Gregg Ellman-Pool/Getty Images)

It's Week 2 of NASCAR's Chase, and there are lots of exciting storylines circulating around the Sprint Cup Series playoffs.

For example: Tony Stewart squeezed DeLana Harvick's butt (the video made CNN!) and Jeff Gordon shaved his mustache after one week (earth-shattering news!).

Wheeeee! If that doesn't increase TV ratings, what will?

In all seriousness, though, there isn't a whole lot to talk about after the first week of the Chase and Brad Keselowski's playoff-opening victory at Chicagoland Speedway. When Stewart told reporters during a media event this week the coverage of his rear-end grab was "pathetic" when compared to the coverage of Keselowski's win, he was semi-correct.

Yes, it's a shame something silly gets more attention than what's happening on the track. But on the other hand, what is there to talk about after the first week of the Chase?

The Chicagoland race was basically a dud – a typical 1.5-mile snoozer – except for Keselowski using a faster green-flag pit stop to snatch the win away from a dominant Jimmie Johnson.

Keselowski is a fresh face atop the point standings for the first time, and that's a major positive for NASCAR. But will it get people to switch off the Sunday afternoon football games and watch this week's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway instead?

One promising nugget was Denny Hamlin's Twitter guarantee he'd win on Sunday. It had potential to get mainstream attention: DRIVER CALLS HIS SHOT. But on Friday, he backed off the statement and said he was simply expressing his confidence. So much for that.

No one was eliminated after Chicagoland (though Jeff Gordon's misfortune hurt his cause) and no one emerged as a clear title favorite. So the championship predictions and darkhorse picks and speculation about how the next nine weeks will unfold are awfully similar to what was written at the same point last week. Is it worth rehashing again?

In short, there isn't much happening right now in NASCAR. Considering the Chase was designed to make this part of the season more interesting than the first 26 races, that's not a good thing.

Here's an ongoing problem with the Chase: More and more, drivers are learning to be on their best behavior at this time of year. It does not benefit them to say anything controversial or do anything that could cause drama – the distractions would only hurt their championship aspirations – so they walk the straight and narrow, hoping to stay out of the spotlight.

That's not unusual at this stage of the playoffs, but what's particularly worrisome this season is just how much drivers are focused on every single point. After seeing the Tony Stewart/Carl Edwards battle come down to a tiebreaker last year, drivers won't take as many chances to gain an extra position or risk showing displeasure with a competitor on the track.

For them, it's simply not worth it. And with more points racing comes tamer events, meaning the rest of us lose.

Look at the interviews coming out of New Hampshire: Bland quotes and politically correct answers are the order of the day. Will that generate enough coverage to break through the massive sports clutter – which includes the NFL, college football and baseball pennant races – and grab a general sports fan's attention?

Last year's Chase was certainly exciting, but it didn't move the needle on a national scale like even the Daytona 500 would. And that was despite one of the greatest championship battles in NASCAR history.

What was lacking? It's tough to say, but perhaps officials should look closer at instituting eliminations. In this reality TV world where fans are used to tuning in to see which contestant will get voted off the show, NASCAR could whittle the field through a series of eliminations.

Wouldn't it be interesting if Jeff Gordon had to move up in the standings this weekend or face getting cut? Or what if a driver like Matt Kenseth blew an engine at New Hampshire and was suddenly out of the competition?

Those would be big storylines and hot topics for water cooler conversation. Those elements seem to be missing right now.

One of the things which has made NASCAR great at times is the carryover from weekend to weekend, a fallout from events which spills into the following race. Without that, NASCAR seems to lose its momentum.

That seems to be the case this week at New Hampshire.

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