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Ernie Banks never said, “Let’s play 10.”

This isn’t the Chase anymore. NASCAR’s “playoffs” are off and “playing” in Joliet, Ill. If it was me, they’d be the race-offs. Racers don’t play. They race. I suppose “race-offs” has a fatal hyphen in it, and they couldn’t even brand a hyphen in Rawhide.

What I should be doing right now is figuring out how this works. I’ve read it all before, but this system requires a reference guide, and my memory isn’t what it once was. I didn’t have access to the Internet back when I didn’t need it. The Good Lord works in mysterious ways.

I used to know that stuff, back when I went to the track and could sit close to Bob Pockrass or Dustin Long. They’re numbers guys. They start with the numbers and draw conclusions. I make a conclusion and find numbers to support it. If I can’t, I stop and pit for fuel and fresh conclusions.

Here’s how much I still love racing. Last week I watched most of the race in Richmond. As best I remember, Kyle Larson won it. At the time, Clemson was playing Auburn, Oklahoma was playing Ohio State, Georgia was playing Notre Dame and South Carolina was playing Missouri.

I know a guy who used to have an autographed Tony Stewart flag flying at his place of business. I saw him Tuesday, and he asked me who won the race.

“Kyle Larson,” I said.

“Huh. Where was it?”


“Where’s the next one?”


“Huh. Clemson’s playing Louisville, you know.”

“You’re in luck,” I said. “The race is Sunday.”

“Huh. Wonder who the Panthers are playing?”

Ten years ago, my friend would’ve watched the stock car race. Twenty years ago, he might’ve gone. Well, Richmond, anyway. A trip to Joliet – that is, to see a stock car race -- would’ve been impossible because the track wasn’t there yet.

A tipping point has been reached. It seems as if people who were holding their breaths and hoping for the best have gone public with panicky tales of NASCAR dysfunction. It’s past the point of panic around here. It’s apparently the point of panic at the track. Here in the hinterland, racing has become yesterday’s news, especially now that footballs are bouncing around.

Devised in 2004 after the Matt Kenseth Crisis of Consistency, the Chase could have been New Coke if NASCAR had dropped it. If they had made this season’s changes – phases and stages and bonus points – and left out everything else, the sport might still be thriving.

They didn’t, and it isn’t.

At the moment, it doesn’t matter what NASCAR does. It won’t work. Fans have tuned out. The sport surrendered its popularity, and it’s going to have to rebuild on what’s left of the foundation the great storm didn’t wash away.

A reader might ask of me, “Well, where were you back in 2003?”

I was writing pretty much the same that I’m writing now. I just hate to say I told you so.