FENWICK: No Chase, But ARCA Battles Go To The Wire

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ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — When NASCAR introduced the Chase in 2004, the idea was that the revised point system would make the battle for the championship more interesting leading into the final races of the season.

Six seasons and four-straight championships won by Jimmie Johnson later, the Chase isn’t nearly what NASCAR executives hoped it would be.

In contrast, the ARCA Racing Series has produced three-straight seasons with great championship battles and drama-filled season finales using essentially the same point system NASCAR abandoned in favor of the Chase.

In 2008, Scott Speed entered the season finale at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway with the point lead ahead of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Justin Allgaier.

Speed got into an on-track shoving match with Stenhouse that resulted in Speed finishing 34th and Stenhouse finishing 25th. Allgaier proceeded to lead the most laps and win the race, stealing the series championship in the process.

A year later the story was all about the dominance of Parker Kligerman and Justin Lofton. The pair controlled the ARCA Racing Series season, winning 14 of the first 20 races, but neither driver established a sizable advantage. As a result Lofton entered the season finale at Rockingham Speedway 15 points ahead of Kligerman.

The race was filled with drama as Lofton was forced to start from the rear of the field after an engine issue in qualifying and Kligerman backslid at the start of the 200-lap event before charging through the pack in the second half of the event.

In the end, Kligerman did everything he could to claim the championship, leading the most laps and winning the race, but it simply wasn’t enough. Despite a last-lap scare that saw Lofton nearly crash while racing for second with Casey Roderick, Lofton won the championship by the smallest amount possible — five points.

The series returned to Rockingham again Saturday, and once again the battle for the series championship was tight. Patrick Sheltra, one of very few owner/drivers left in major auto racing, held a 10-point lead over second-year ARCA driver Craig Goess, who drives for Eddie Sharp Racing, with Cunningham Motorsports driver Tom Hessert only 20 points back.

The drama began in qualifying, where Goess earned five bonus points with his third-place qualifying effort. Under ARCA’s point system the top three qualifiers earn bonus points, with the pole winner receiving 15 points, second place 10 and third place five.

As the race began it was truly anyone’s guess as to who would leave Rockingham with the series title. All three drivers raced in the top 10 early, but Hessert fell from contention, leaving Goess and Sheltra to fight for the title.

Despite a valiant effort from Goess, the day belonged to Sheltra. The Florida native dominated much of the event, leading the most laps before finishing fourth. It was enough for Sheltra to become the first owner/driver to win the series title since Benny Parsons in 1969.

So for those disillusioned with NASCAR and the Chase, consider checking out the ARCA Racing Series. Even without a playoff system, the series always seems to produce great championship battles.

Who needs the Chase anyway?

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