It's time for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, stock car's version of a playoffs system - only this post-season is unlike any other in sports.
NASCAR has literally drawn a line after the top 12 drivers in the season standings. That dynamic dozen will race for the Sprint Cup Championship. But, also on the track will be 30 or more other drivers looking for individual race wins and a strong finish to the 2008 campaign.
The Chase itself is packed with personalities, and they don't always get along. Points leader Kyle Busch has ruffled more than a few feathers this season, most recently trading paint with Carl Edwards, whose finish has landed him in the second spot in the standings. Third place Jimmie Johnson has also come on strong down the stretch, and is poised for a third straight championship.
Then there's fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Junior gunning for his first career Cup title in his first season with his new Hendrick teammates, including Jeff Gordon, who's also in the Chase. There are underdogs like Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin, and a sentimental favorite in Jeff Burton, who's finished the season in the top 10 six times.
Former champion, Tony Stewart, famous for his short fuse, is always good for a sound-bite or two. Toss in wildcards like Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and another past champion in Matt Kenseth, and we're in for an exciting couple of months on the track.
But those 12 drivers aren't the only factors in this Championship Chase. In what other sport do players or teams out of contention for the championship continue to compete along side those still in the hunt?
It creates an intriguing dynamic: start with the competition of September-October-and-November madness, add the strategy of "Stock Car Survivor", and just for fun, toss in the drama of "As the Garage Turns." When it's all over, we should hand out awards for best leading man, villain and even supporting character.
Kyle Busch ticked off enough other drivers this season to be voted off the island. Will that prompt a rival not in the chase to retaliate? NASCAR's imposed probation on Busch and Edwards after their recent tussle doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent for bad behavior.
And how about the teammates of Chase drivers, like Casey Mears in the Hendrick camp? Will he, in the spirit of a "Survivor" alliance be of any help to his three teammates battling for the Championship?
And can Chase teammates like Busch, Hamlin and Stewart of the Gibbs racing stable be of any assistance to each other, or will it be every man for himself?
NASCAR implemented its playoff system to keep the season interesting down the stretch, and this year may be the most exciting and entertaining Chase for the Championship yet: filled with drama and intrigue, strategy and skill, all at 200 miles per hour. Let the green flag fall.
Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.