It's Awesome, Baby ... With a Capital K-ahne
Dick Vitale, Joe Lunardi Reveal Chase Picks to Kasey Kahne
It was "NASCAR Madness" at the Hard Rock Café on Wednesday, as legendary commentator Dick Vitale brought his unique brand of energy and charisma to the "Chase Across North America" NASCAR Media Tour, featuring Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne. Using the newly-constructed 16-driver Chase Grid, Vitale named Kasey Kahne his "prime-time driver" to win this year's championship.
"This new format is unbelievable, it is so exciting see NASCAR is going to reward winning, and my man, Kasey Kahne is a PTPer," exclaimed Vitale. "If he was a point guard I would say he can handle the rock, baby, and as a Sprint Cup sensation, he can lead the team to a 'W' and to his first championship. Fit the slipper, baby; Cinderella is calling."
Kahne, the No. 11 seed in the Chase's brand new knock-out format, made NASCAR's "Sweet 16" thanks to a win two weeks ago. That would certainly make him a Cinderella story should he advance through the Challenger Round, which races through New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the 18th running of the SYLVANIA 300 on Sept. 21. But as a recent winner of NHMS, Kahne has to be considered one of the favorites to return to Sunoco Victory Lane and earn an automatic berth out of the Challenger Round and into the Contender Round.
"I love New Hampshire and can't wait to get back to Loudon," said Kahne, who has four finishes of 11th or better in his last five starts at NHMS, including the win in July two years ago. "My win in Atlanta put me in position to compete in this new playoff grid and I feel relieved to be in the club and ready to win and advance."
Vitale demonstrated his authority on college basketball, but impressed the packed crowd of fans by going through the grid and predicting a final four of Kevin Harvick, 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, and, of course, Kasey Kahne. And while he chose Johnson to win his seventh championship on the Chase Grid, he wasn't about to bet against Kahne.
"You got to have the right combination, baby," explained Vitale. "You got to have the momentum and a smart strategy for each track, and you need the team leader in the right crew chief to call the NASCAR pick and rolls and get in and out of those pit boxes like a quick basketball timeout, making your adjustments to win it at the end. Kasey's my diaper dandy driver to watch."
Joining Kahne and Vitale on the Hard Rock stage was "bracketology" expert Joe Lunardi, who talked about how the new Chase Grid changes racing. He offered insider tips and unique advice from the perspective of someone who knows the grid playoff system better than any analyst in the country thanks to his years covering college basketball for ESPN.
"I love this new playoff system because it rewards winning and that's what it's all about," said Lunardi. "What's unique about this format is that a driver can have a terrible race early in the round, but come back and rally around his team, pull together and pull off what would likely be seen as an upset win. And hey, who doesn't love upsets?"
Kahne, Vitale and Lunardi broke down the Chase Grid in front of throngs of fans and media, with Kahne advancing through the Challenger (16 drivers), Contender (12 drivers) and Eliminator (eight drivers) rounds and onto the Final Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.
The event was emceed by ESPN play-by-play/commentator Allen Bestwick, while Miss Sprint Cup, Madison Martin, was on hand to fill out the Chase Grid, as well as sign autographs and pose for pictures with the official Sprint Cup trophy with fans.
"I think today's event captures the excitement of what the playoffs are supposed to be, and I can't wait to get this started," said speedway executive vice president and general manager, Jerry Gappens, a huge fan of college basketball and March Madness. "Having the likes of Dick Vitale and Joe Lunardi here, each experts in their respective college basketball arenas, really lends itself to what this new Chase Grid is all about. It's about making this interactive for the fans and, most importantly, winning on the track."
Gappens capped off the event by presenting a check for to Vitale on behalf of Speedway Children's Charities. The $1,600 - reflecting $100 for each driver in the Chase Grid - check was given to the The V Foundation, dedicated to saving lives by helping find a cure for cancer in memory of North Carolina State University Basketball Coach Jim Valvano. Gappens noted that should Kahne advance to the Final Four then he would double the amount - and should Kahne go on to win the championship, he would do it yet again.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Challenger Round drops the green flag on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. The SYLVANIA 300 will once again serve as the second race in the new Challenger Round with the winner of the race earning an automatic berth into the next round.