(Originally appeared Aug. 13, 2011 at WRALSportsFan.com)
Like millions of other NASCAR fans, I have grown to love the Chase for the Sprint Cup format.
Without question, the 10-race playoff is the most exciting time of the 36-race Cup season, as it slowly but surely determines who will ultimately become that season's champion.
And while NASCAR has tweaked the format several times since its debut in 2004, the basic premise remains the same: consistency and wins in the 10-race Chase wins a driver the championship.
Ironically, even though we're preparing for the start of the eighth edition of the Chase in a little over a month, we've only had three champions over the course of its seven-year existence: Kurt Busch won the inaugural title in 2004, Tony Stewart won his second career Cup crown in 2005 and then Jimmie Johnson has dominated the last five championships from 2006 through 2010.
NASCAR fans are already starting to wonder whether Johnson can make it six championships in a row, or who will be the driver to finally knock King Jimmie off his throne? Will it be a hotshot like points leader Carl Edwards, or perhaps a dark horse like Dale Earnhardt Jr. (if indeed he makes the Chase at all this season).
But as the Chase has evolved, something equally exciting in my mind has also evolved: the so-called "Race for the Chase," namely the five races or so that lead up to the determination of the 12 drivers that will ultimately be Chase drivers.
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