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Random thoughts for the fourth week of the NASCAR Chase, relishing the drama and wondering if Jimmie Johnson is going to play a pivotal role in the next seven weeks.

* Thanks to the current Chase format, we now look at NASCAR drivers very differently than before. Many of us can recall champions being crowned with three or four races remaining on the schedule, which did nothing for attendance and/or television ratings. We had to appreciate the effort turned in by the new champion throughout the season, his early results paved the way for clinching before the finale.

Three races into the 2015 Chase, four are out of the hunt and the remaining dozen are all on equal footing for the first time since the start of the year. No bonus points for previous wins, it's time to show your stuff.

And nobody has done that under the new format better than Kevin Harvick. In 2014, he won a race to advance into the final four, the only way he could have extended his quest. He followed that clutch win with another the following week in Homestead for the title.

Perhaps Sunday's win at Dover wasn't quite as dramatic as the one last fall in Phoenix, but it was equally as important as it kept him alive in 2015. Like him or not, you have to respect Harvick for his achievement, he has earned that.

Has there been another driver who has been as clutch as the one from Bakersfield? He's certainly earned his place along with such local Baka Boys legends Merle Haggard, Buck Owens Dwight Yoakum, Earl Warren, Noah Berry, Frank Gifford and brothers Rick and Roger Mears.

The Chase fits his aggressive style and until somebody knocks him off, he's the one to beat. …

* What has happened that many race fans have turned on Michael Waltrip?

There are many reasons why the popular driver and media star has lost fans over the years. Was it the penalty his new team incurred in 2007 that resulted in his being the first driver ever to have negative points? Or perhaps the Richmond controversy of 2013 that ultimately led to the disbanding of Michael Waltrip Racing after this season? Hardcore NASCAR fans are an unforgiving lot.

Thus, news this week Waltrip wants to compete in the 2016 Daytona 500 under Maxwell House sponsorship didn't go over well with many. Of course, some of those unhappy campers may be the ones MWR will lay off as the season finishes.

Waltrip has enjoyed success at a restrictor-plate track such as Daytona. He's also a driver that will bring plenty of attention to both his new race team and sponsors, he's proven that repeatedly over the last few years.

He's certainly entitled to race if he so desires. Yet, the grumble underneath the surface is that he's attempting to steal a spot from a deserving driver. What, many ask, does a 55-year-old, have left to prove at the biggest race of the year?

It's certainly worth the wait until February.

* Call me old school, but I do have a hard time wrapping my arms around any Richard Petty NASCAR entry that is not a Plymouth. Of course, I also maintain a mental block on any of his cars that weren't totally “Petty Blue.”

Of course that's just wishful thinking. Petty climbed out of a Plymouth after the 1972 season. However, the memory of Petty in a Plymouth Superbird – oh what a good lookin' car then and today – was reinforced in the 2006 Pixar animated film “Cars.” The film introduced “The King” to a new generation of fans who had just heard of his racing career but had never seen him preform.

All those memories came rushing out early in the week when it was announced Richard Petty Motorsports would continue to use Fords in its quest for a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

In his career as a driver and owner, Petty has been associated with just about every NASCAR racing brand but two, Chevrolet and Toyota. He raced Oldsmobiles, Plymouth, Fords, Chryslers, Dodges, Buicks and Pontiacs.

How many others can equal that?

We are fortunate Petty remains a integral part of the sport and hope his health allows him to remain in the position.