NASCAR could have egg on its face even if winless driver finishes ahead of 3 others & doesn't win Homestead today

2014 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon & Jimmie Johnson out of running in 'The Chase' finale despite 13 victories between them

NASCAR CEO Brian France architect of The Chase / Headline Surfer®The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season started off so strong with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. capturing the checkered flag in the season-opening Daytona 500, but as the season came down to the final weeks, a re-tooled Chase format proved disastrous for teammate Jeff Gordon. And in today's final race at Homstead, neither of the two marquee drivers are contenders for a championship.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- NASCAR CEO Brian France boasted in January that this season's revised Chase format would produce a bonafide Sprint Cup champion with the emphasis on track wins along the way.

But it hasn't quite worked out that way.

And certainly Dale Earnhardt, Jr., brought NASCAR nation to life back in February with his dramatic sprint to the checkered flag in the Daytona 500 after a six-hour rain delay.

Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, considered the three best drivers -- all racing for Hendrick Motorsports -- with 13 wins between them highted by Junior's season-opening Daytona 500 victory -- are each capable of winning today's season-ending race at Homestead, but they won't be vying for the chmpionship and adding to their legacies:

• Earnhardt has yet to win a cup championship, but he has the two Daytona 500 championships, the thriller in February and the first in in 2004, just three years after he finished second to Michael Waltrip in his first Daytona 500, his father running in third before an incidental bump from Sterling Marlon trying to charge to the front sent the racing legend nearly head on into the outside concrete wall coming off off Turn 4, collecting Ken Scrader in the process. Schrader walked away from the crash but the elder Earnhardt was killed instantly, slamming into the wall at 185 mph. Junior would come back that July 4th weekend to win the Coke Zero 400 under the lights. He has 23 career cup wins, putting him 31st all-time.

• Gordon has four NASCAR Cup championships -- 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001; three Daytona 500 wins in 1995, 1997, 2005. In his 23-year career, he's amassed 92 cup wins, ranking him third all-time behind Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105).

• Johnson, once a protege of Gordon, has six NASCAR Cup champioships, the first five in consecutive years -- 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013; and two Daytona 500 wins in 2006 and 2013. He has 70 career cup wins. That puts him eighth all-time and six behind legend Dale Earnhardt in seventh. 

NASCAR Sprint Cup tale of the tape / Headline Surfer®
NASCAR graphic / for Headline Surfer® /
Here is the tale of the tape of the final four drivers eligle to win the 2014 Sprint Cup Championshionship today at Homestead.

But later today when the sun sets on the 2014 season here in South Florida, the crown prince of NASCAR could have egg on his face with a winless driver not even winning the finale, but finishing ahead of three others still in the running to claim the championship.

That driver isn't Earnhardt, who actually won five races altogether. Junior's not even among the "Final Four" contenders.

In reality, it doesn't really matter much to Junior, who when asked in the media center at Daytona if he could finally win a Sprint Cup championship, he didn't stutter when he shot back: "I just won the Daytona 500."

Jeff Gordon? He's a known commodity, even to non-NASCAR followers. Gordon has won four races, but he, too, is not in the hunt.

Jimmie Johnson -- some people might have heard of him -- six-time Spring Cup champion?

After all, Johnson has won four races this season. Nope. Not him either.

Dale Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500 / Headline Surfer®Imagine the embarrassment for Brian France, the billionaire racing czar at the helm for 11 years and college dropout -- the benefactor of family lineage -- whose grandfather, "Big Bill" France, created the stock-car empire back in 1948.

It was Brian France, kid brother of Lesa France Kennedy -- she as head of head of International Speedway Corp., based at Daytona International Speedway and owner of a dozen tracks in all -- with his concoction of  the Chase in 2004.

This was three years after Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died in a last lap crash in the Daytona 500, beginning a decade-long decline in NASCAR attendance and a waning interest in the sport dominated bat the highest levels by 20 members of the France .Family, collectibvely worth $5 billion, according to Forbes.

But back to the here and now: Today's finish could put the exclamation point on the gimmickry that has given die-hard fans little to cheer about other than the two Daytona 500 wins by a now-40-year-old Dale Earnhardt, Jr, the signature races a decade apart from each other.

In between, fans have had to endure two-car tandem races where a set of cars would have to run bumper to bumper and then switch off.

NASCAR video / for Headline Surfer® /
Juan Pablo Montoy crashes into a jet dryer during a caution on lap 160, causing the race to be red flagged or stopped for two-plus hours while a crater-sized hole was patched. The race had already been postponed from its original Sunday, Feb. 26, start to that Monday, when Montaoya struck the jet dryer, causing a fiery explosion as the jet dryers were drying odd the track from intermittent rainfall that resulted in a slew of accidents caused numeros delays. The race was won by Matt Kenseth for his second Daytona 500. Ironically, Kenset's first Daytona 500 came in the 2009, shortened by rain. 

There was the infamous jet-dryer crash involving Juan Pablo Montoya that delayed the 2012 running of the Daytona 500 that had already been delayed for one day due to heavy rain. But intermittent showerrs in the Monday run resuilted in a series of cautions, the biggest coming on lap 160 of the 200-lap race with Montoya striking the jet dryer.

Montoya was not hurt in the ensuing fiery explosion nor was the machine operator -- but it created a massive crater in the track's asphalt. The race was red-flagged -- stopped -- for more than two hours for it to be patched.

It was France's chase that many fans deride Jimmie Johnsonas an opportunist, coming out of nowhere to win five championships in a row beginning in 2006, and a sixth cup championship last year.

Final four drivers in the Chase for Sunday's Sprint Cup finale at Homstead / Headline Surfer®Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images / NASCAR / for Headline Surfer® /  
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, Miss Sprint Cup Kim Coon, Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford and Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet, pose with 'Miss Sprint Cup' Kim Coon, prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday in Homestead, Florida. What is glaring is who isn't on the stage: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.,  in the No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, all three drivers for Hendrick Motorsports with a combined 13 wins this season.

But none of that really matters today at Homestead or even who wins the race in terms of crowning a first-time cup champion among the four finalists -- so long as one of them finishes ahead of the other three.

The "final four" include winless Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and the veteran, Kevin Harvick. who initially was given Dale Earnhardt's ride after his death, but not in the No. 3; instead a new No. 29.

Harvick, who left Richard Childress Racing last season to race for Tony Stewart, himself winless this season amid the death at the clay track in upstate New York that led to the death of a young driver in a minor circuit race in August getting out of his car and challenging Stewart before he was run over and thrown some 50 feet and pronounced dead before a stunned crowd. A grand jury investigation did not return a crimininal indictment against Stewart whio sat out three subsequent Sprint Cup races.

Harvick and Hamlin are the likely favorites to come out on top with Logano trending as well.

But should Ryan Newman defy the odds and finish ahead of the other three and still not win the race, well, then Brian France will likely become the butt of jokes, judging by the grumbling of NASCAR fans before the 3 p.m. race start with the following teaser from NASCAR to the fans on its Facebook page: Four drivers. One race. First to the finish is CHAMPION.

But should Ryan Newmn defy the odds and finish ahead of the other three and still not win the race, well, then Brian France will likely become the butt of jokes, judging by the grumbling of NASCAR fans before the 3 p.m. race start with the following teaser from NASCAR to the fans on its Facebook page: 'Four drivers. One race. First to the finish is CHAMPION.'

Here are some of the fan responses: 

Mary Jenchowski-Arends: Will the REAL champion please stand up. #JeffGordon #EraseTheChase Roger Allyn Lyle Everyone knows Gordon should be this years champion. And Newman doesn't even deserve to be in the chase, much less the final four. Going for Harvick today.

Katie Howard: Yeah there is only one champion this season and his name is JEFF GORDON!!!! but NASCAR screwed him.

Paul Cramer: Only1can win but none won during the year!!! WAY TO GO NASCAR! (does anybody remember when racing was the fastest and first car to the finish line? Now it's (restrictor) plate go carts drama!!

Barbara Middleton: No champion this year, sad to say, only a winner.....

Roger Allyn Lyle: Everyone knows Gordon should be this years champion. And Newman doesn't even deserve to be in the chase, much less the final four. Going for Harvick today.

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.