The NASCAR Chase to the Sprint Cup is broken and I'm bitter.

(Preface: I've been a Jeff Gordon fan for as long as I can remember so if this next post seems biased, kindly find the nearest garbage disposal, stick your dominant hand in, and flip the switch to the 'On' position)

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season came to a close last night in Richmond, Virginia. Carl Edwards edged out Kurt Busch for his second win of the season following a four lap shootout to the checkers, Clint Bowyer sold his soul to a car owner who is living in an apartment above a pizza joint, and Brian France left the track with his normal entourage of loose women carrying dollar bills covered in an inexplicable coating of white dust.

Already, I can hear the peanut gallery attempting to correct my facts - "But Mr. Battlewagon, there are still ten races left in the season!"

Horseshit. Jeff Gordon is not in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, so my season ends right here. I'm not going to win you over with logic, and I'm not going to baffle you with bullshit. I'm going to honestly tell you right here, right now that I don't give a goddamn who wins the Sprint Cup because the whole system is broken.

Last night's race was set to be one for the books. I had all the right tools at my disposal to make this Chase deciding race one to remember (read: longnecks of Miller Lite for as far as the eye could see), especially in the wake of the previous fall race at Richmond. A late race start due to rain, cautions caused by malfunctioning track sprinklers, and checkers finally flying well past midnight Sunday local time – it was quite the show for everyone involved. You may recall a belligerent post-race interview from Kyle Busch after a certain Hendrick Motorsports driver beat him out of the Chase berth by a measly three point margin.

These memories remained prevalent last night at the drop of the green flag as that same Hendrick Motorsports driver, Jeff Gordon – The Wonder Boy, The Rainbow Warrior, the Guy That Sells My Grandma Retirement Insurance – sat on the pole, six points outside of 10th place and a Chase berth. As I settled in with an ice-cold Miller Lite, I reminisced about the ecstasy of victory - the hurricane black, red and yellow #24 Chevrolet disappearing and reappearing in a cloud of tire smoke after winning the season finale at Homestead. Lightning strikes in the background from a strange, rain-shortened event at Pocono – and Satan forbid I forget about the last ten laps of the fall 2011 race at Atlanta, where Jeff clinched his 85th victory, surpassing the great Bobby Allison for third on the all time wins list.

I closed my eyes and my lips curled into a smile as I recollected that wonderful Monday afternoon – standing atop my bed shirtless, my dorm neighbors gathering in the open doorway, not surprised at the fact that their chemically imbalanced friend was screaming at the television, but curious as to why. The sweet, sweet slow motion picture burned into my memory of Jeff and teammate Jimmie Johnson sliding completely sideways out of turn four on old tires and drag racing to the checkered flag on the last lap. The passionate feeling of success as my lifelong favorite driver pulled into victory lane and bathed in a shower of Pepsi. As the festivities began in Atlanta, I passed out celebratory cans of Mountain Dew to my neighbors that had not ditched the strange cavalcade, a token of gratitude to my understanding friends who still could not fathom why I was so ingrained in watching cars turn left for hours at a time.

The week following that race in Atlanta was a strange one. For the first time in my life, I contemplated what life would be like without my favorite driver behind the wheel of the #24. As I played and replayed the final laps of the race and the post-race interview, I noticed the tones of gray in Jeff’s hair. His eyes had bags under them. His timeless, effervescent grin now reminded me more of a neighborly, caring smile. Every time I watched the post-race interview, it became more and more clear – my days as a Jeff Gordon fan were numbered.

So, Richmond again, and - imagine this! - the same menacing rain cloud hanging over the pit stall of the 24 team. A top-tier car with a driver that could drive the wheels off a camel, paired with a mediocre crew chief and a pit crew that week-in and week-out could be mistaken for an ARCA start-and-park team’s personnel. It was going to be a long one. I could only hope that my beer reserves would hold out for the night.

Jeff’s car was running like a scalded dog from the start, but after the past few seasons, I knew better than to get my hopes up so early in the evening. Hell, I should have known better than to watch the first 300 miles of the race, but I had drinking to do, and the weeks leading up to the Chase were worth their weight in gold as far as drinking games were concerned. With the “master wordsmith” and lovable dunce Allen Bestwick in the booth for ABC, the window of opportunity to turn a harmless drinking game into Michael Waltrip levels of alcoholism was… well, about 400 miles at race pace. Mention the Chase ‘bubble’? Drink. Points as they run now? Drink. Debris Caution? Finish your beer and start chugging the next one for as long as your favorite driver is in the pits.

So there I was, nearly 150 miles in, sitting in a puddle of my own sweat and grinning like the dumb, drunk motherfucker I was. In hindsight, the belligerence probably set in somewhere around that period of time, as the first caution of the night flew on lap 137.

The “Brad K is a horse” jokes flow like a feeding trough pisser in a dirt track bathroom after about sixteen beers.

Right about the time of that first debris caution (DRINK), Bestwick started mentioning Jeremy Mayfield’s 2004 run for the inaugural Chase. In my inebriated state, I was both confused and terrified. What was I supposed to do? Attempt to smoke a crack rock off the top of a Coca-Cola can? A quick shuffle through the beer bottle graveyard on my desk found no such narcotics in my possession. I finished my beer in disgust.

What followed for the 200 miles following that first debris caution is a hazy at best recollection of grinning, sweating, and drinking every time Dale Jarrett failed to connect to in-race reporter Martin Truex, Jr.’s radio under yellow.

I continued the spiral into abomination and more horse jokes until the 50-to-go mark - the true steak and gravy of the race. Had I not been willing to partake in the challenging drinking events that Bestwick had set in my lap for the previous month leading up to the Chase, this is where I would have tuned in - sober and ready to play catch up. Alas, that was not the case for my Saturday night.

At that 50-to-go mark, I was sent to Twitter Jail, a place dark and devoid of social interaction, where only the baddest of internet bad guys go to think about what they had done. So, with nowhere to share my belligerence and a trip to the fridge for multiple beers (do you really want to leave your seat with ten to go?), the game became real and I upped the ante 24-fold. A Jeff Gordon Lucky Dog pass meant that I had to finish my beer because of Chase implications, and then open another delicious Miller Lite and drink due to Bestwick actually saying “Chase implications” as the AARP/Gray Haired and Proud #24 slid himself into place at rear of the lead lap cars. I drank again in honor of Bestwick’s “DEBRIS CAUTION” button in the broadcast booth, and then again because I realized that I was holding a beer and a man’s Prime Directive when holding a beer is to drink said beer.

The green flag flew for what I hoped was the last time with 48 laps to go. The empty beer bottles not only toppled my desk but surrounded my chair.

What followed was every NASCAR fan’s dream - watching your favorite driver weave his way back through the field on a short track, shaving the points margin as they stood (DRINK) until… there he was. 8th place on track. 10th place in the points. A berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship was on the cusp and I could barely sit still in my seat, intoxication aside. The laps ticked down on the green flag run to the finish, 20 to go. 15 to go. 10 to go.

By the time Lap 194 came around, I was clutching my beer with an intensity that would turn away most barflies. Then, those most famous words in auto racing with less than ten to go - “OH! TROUBLE!” My heart dropped, quickly turning into a inebriated rage when the replay showed what even the drunkest of 30/30 eyes could see - Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Hendrick Cars (re: Money Laundering)/National Guard Chevy trailing Clint Bowyer’s 5 Hour Energy Toyota by more than a car length as Bowyer’s #15 jerked and leaned suddenly, spinning itself around like Michael Waltrip after two margaritas. The Sock Bandit himself had struck again, first in ruining the season by sharing FOX’s broadcast booth with his senile brother Darrell, and again by asking Clint if “his arms were tired” with six to go in a championship playoff deciding race.

My anger turned to outrage as the replay was shown again and again. Outrage turned into sheer panic when I realized the true danger of the situation - one final pit stop starring the worst top-rated pit crew in all of Sprint Cup racing. The black and orange #24 car dived into pit lane, behind the rest of the lead lap traffic. I held my beer in terrifying silence as the camera cut to the #24 sliding smoothly into it’s pit stall. The crew stumbled to work. After a year in '23 Beers Later' Time, the jack dropped and Jeff shot out the box like a bat out of hell - as did a piece of debris from the rear end of the car. Fuck. A lug nut? A spring rubber? I violently (and drunkenly) pitched back in forth in my seat waiting for NASCAR to penalize Gordon as he shuffled back on track behind Martin Truex, Jr. - 11th place in points. Despite the fact that the most succinct definition of ‘bad luck’ would be a picture of Jeff Gordon’s #24 Chevrolet SS, the drive-through call never came. As the field roared back to green with three to go, it was a simple fact - Jeff would have to pass Truex’s NAPA Auto Parts car to make the Chase.

Anxiety pulsed as I knew Jeff’s car was fast on the short runs. Three laps though, was that even enough time to get the car hooked up off the corners? The answer came quick enough as the checkered flag flew and Truex’s Toyota barreled out of turn four ahead of Gordon by two car lengths, finishing 7th and 8th, respectively. I didn’t need to wait for the points ticker as they finished to drink.

Martin Truex, Jr. clinched the 10th Chase spot over Jeff Gordon by one point.

Nauseated with disgust, anger, and sadness, I shotgunned the rest of Miller Lite and lit up a cigarette. In that moment, the sad vision soberly slid it’s way into my conscious - the Jeff Gordon I had spent my childhood looking up to, the young, spry driver from Indiana, slowly turning into the Jeff Gordon that stood next to ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little. Tired, gaunt, and looking every bit of 42 years old. His day-old scruff was a tint of gray. He smiled as he talked about how the day was going until the last caution and how the next ten races would still be all-out, but even through his boyish smile I could still see exhaustion and defeat. 'This could be the final ride’ flashed into my mind as shitfaced tears welled up in my eyes. Here was the driver I looked up to for nearly 20 years, smiling in the face of defeat. Two kids and a wife. No need to drive just to pay the bills, and for that matter, no real need to drive the last ten races of the season. Calm, disappointed, but still smiling and talking about winning a race before the season ends.

His interview ended and the points flashed on the screen again. 11th place showed the #24 of Jeff Gordon, 92 points out of the championship lead. Without the ridiculous sideshow that is the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it would be a large gap to cover, but with consistent finishes over the last ten races of the season - who knows? The mathematical possibility of a fifth championship loomed over my drunken state. Instead, a three-ring circus of Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas spun and flipped and pitted on the last lap in my head. The #56 as the ringleader screaming “N-N-NAPA KNOW HOW!” into my ear while I try to sleep. The #55 as the crippled elephant that magically can only manage a 79 mph average lap after the last restart, and finally the #15 as the piece-of-shit motherfucker that pits on the last lap to give Joey Logano two spots and a Chase berth.

Uncouth metaphors aside, the 2013 Sprint Cup Season is over for me after 26 races. Regardless of how cheated I feel from the results of this race that finalizes some ridiculous playoff system that is redundant after the points system revamp, my cries for change will go unheard into the quiet Richmond night. Brian France will continue to leave the racetrack every Sunday coked out of his mind and completely incompetent in his position as the CEO and Chairman of NASCAR. Michael Waltrip’s mugshot will circle around the garage next weekend in Joliet after another DUI and socks-only stampede from his crashed Land Cruiser, his instant karma for throwing a race.

Most importantly, you’ll find me in my home on Sunday afternoon with the TV off, sitting in my quiet garage and drinking a beer while I think about what has and what might have been. The way it’s going, I might not even make it to Jeff’s final race.

I might just move on with my life before I have to watch my favorite sport crash full-speed into the ground.

CORRECTION 9/9: It has come to my attention that Saturday night's event is obviously not a 400 mile race. 400 laps on a 3/4 mile track does not make 400 miles. I accept my lashings.

Photo credit: @NASCAR

You can follow HELLA BATTLEWAGON on Twitter, @BATTLEWAGON666, for racing banter and obscene opining.