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Brad Keselowski? Well, the playoffs already have produced a surprise


    Brad Keselowski: He's been keeping a low profile lately, after some early season skirmishes (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern


   What NASCAR racing needs, Jeff Burton thinks, is a Super Bowl to conclude the season.
   There's a lot of debate here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway about next year tweaking the sport's championship playoffs, which open here this weekend, with 12 men battling over the last 10 races of the season for the Sprint Cup title.
   And Burton's comments come as NASCAR executives are debating themselves what to do, if anything, with the 2011 playoffs.
   There has been discussion about eliminations during next fall's chase, perhaps turning the season finale at Homestead into a one-race winner-take-all championship, with, say, the top five men coming out of the Phoenix race making the cut.
   Turning the Homestead finale into a NASCAR Super Bowl?
   Looks like a marketing campaign possibly brewing, given Burton's close relationship with the sport's powers-that-be.

   Brad Keselowski, little heard from lately on the tour, after getting involved in a number of contentious scraps earlier this season, surprised many here by winning the pole for Sunday's 300-miler on this flat one-mile track. Keselowski says he hopes his first tour pole, and at record speed, helps 'legitimatize' him and his team, which doesn't have a top-10 yet. He was on track for a top-five at Atlanta in the spring when he got turned in an incident with Carl Edwards.
   This is only Keselowski's first full season, but he's driving for Roger Penske, which Keselowski says is a lot of pressure: "This is one of the sparks we need to get this team energized. We've worked all year but haven't gotten the results until today."
   Keselowski isn't one of the 12-men in the title playoffs, and only four chase drivers made the top-10 in Friday's qualifying. How the non-chasers play with the chasers on Sundays from here on could be a hot topic.
   "I would love to be the spoiler of the chase," Keselowski says. "The guy who can run up front.....but we've got a lot of work to do."
   But Clint Bowyer, the fastest chase contender, on the front row, says he expects to see "the same old guys upfront" after the race gets going, "because that's why they're in the chase."
Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are the three other chase racers starting in the top-10. But Stewart dismissed qualifying here as all-but meaningless, as far as predicting Sunday. The men who may test Stewart's theory are chasers Matt Kenseth (33rd), Kevin Harvick (27th), Jimmie Johnson (25th) and Denny Hamlin (22nd).
   Greg Biffle, also in the chase, points out "You can't win the championship here....but you can lose the championship here."
   And with all the 'boys, have at it' this season, this could be an action-packed Sunday, with old scores to be settled. For a couple: Edwards and Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.....

   Meanwhile, several ideas about how to reshape the point-system are being discussed here, though it's not really certain if NASCAR boss Brian France will indeed change anything for next season.
   Burton: "I don't want to say I don't care, because obviously I do care. But part of me doesn't care at all...because whatever the points are, it's the same for everybody."
   Not everyone like the chase itself, and those fans have been quite vocal. But France is showing no inclination to drop the 10-race playoffs, even though the TV ratings for that part of the season have been falling steadily the last few years.
   And NASCAR's TV ratings the last few races have been less than thrilling: 3.9 for the Atlanta 500, 3.1 for the Richmond 400, 3.5 for the Bristol 500, 3.6 for the Michigan 400, and 3.6 for Watkins Glen.....
   Last fall's New Hampshire 300 chase opener pulled a 3.2 TV rating.
   But Burton says he likes the playoff format: "I think the playoff-type system is fun, and it's what sports are all about.
   "Sports are about pressure-filled, high-energy moments when there is a lot on the line. And the more of a tournament atmosphere you can bring to it the more opportunities there are for that.
   "At the same time, I like the traditional body of work meaning something. (Like the rest of the season)
   "I think your body of work should mean something.
   "So combining those two things in some form is the right thing to do.
   "Which, by the way, is what we have.
   "So I don't think we need major changes.
"But the thing we lack, or potentially lack, is a Super Bowl:
   "Where there are two teams -- maybe even three or four teams.
   "Where it's zero to zero, and you kick the ball off.
   "We lack that a little bit. And it would be cool to have that.
   "But you can only have that be legitimate if your body of work still has to mean something.
   "You can't just say 'Okay, it's zero to zero. Last two cars have at it in the last race.'
   "It's not what our sport has been about....but there is part of me that says 'Wow, that is really exciting.'
   "How many Super Bowls do you guys go to where there are half the people who aren't even watching the game....but they are there for the party.
"And that is what is cool about the Super Bowl – it's a national event.
   "And the more we can do those kinds of things, the better it is for our sport."
   Sounds like a cue for France to make a statement.


    Jeff Burton: NASCAR needs to have a real end-of-the-season Super Bowl (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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