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Chasers Tear Into The Big Apple

Contributing Writer | , RacinToday.com Friday, September 18 2009
Kelly Ripa poses for a photo with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne prior to taking part in Largest Custard Pie fight during Guinness World Record Breaker Week on 'LIVE! with Regis and Kelly' during Chase Media Day on Thursday in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kelly Ripa poses for a photo with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne prior to taking part in Largest Custard Pie fight during Guinness World Record Breaker Week on 'LIVE! with Regis and Kelly' during Chase Media Day on Thursday in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Bill Fleischman | Senor Correspondent
RacinToday.com

New York – So what are 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup racers doing in midtown Manhattan on a September day? Racing taxis up Sixth Avenue?

Noooooo…they were promoting the Chase for the Championship. On their way to New Hampshire for the first Chase race the Daring Dozen made a pit stop in Manhattan.

First, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya met for a half hour each with some mid-Atlantic area motorsports writers at a midtown hotel. Then all the Chasers did several hours of print, television and radio interviews at the nearby Hard Rock Café.

Predictably, the theme of the day was: can any Chaser prevent Johnson from winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup series title? The consensus was, yes, but any racer who does it will have to be outrageously good for 10 races.

“To beat him you have to put pressure on him,” Gordon said. “We put a lot of pressure on them in ’07, but (making a downward motion with his right thumb) we didn’t keep them pressed down.” (Gordon finished second).

“They’ve performed very well this year. They’ve led a bunch of laps, they’ve been the fastest car a lot, but they haven’t been able to finish out (some races). They’ve had fuel mileage (problems), different issues. If they pull that together in the final 10 (Chase races), they could be unbeatable.

“They’ve had one of the best teams, prior to the last three (titles). They just didn’t put all the final little pieces together. When they won the first one, I knew this was a team that could go on a tear.”

Gordon is seeded sixth in the Chase, 30 points behind top seed Mark Martin. Johnson is the third seed, 10 behind Martin. The Chase starts Sunday at New Hampshire.

Johnson, winner of three races this year, isn’t exactly roaring into the Chase. In the six races prior to the Chase, he has just one top-10 finish.

Following his 11th-place finish at Richmond, the last race before the Chase, Johnson was uncharacteristically aggravated. Referring to his 36th-place finish in the previous race at Atlanta, Johnson said, “We couldn’t improve the car as the night went on and everybody else did. In Richmond, it was a similar thing. I was really frustrated.

“The last couple weeks, I don’t know what we’ve done wrong to not be able to tune the car right.”

Wisely, Johnson said he hasn’t allowed himself to think much about what it will be like to win four consecutive titles.

“I certainly crave it,” he said. “I’d love to be in the history books as the only guy that’s done that. I’m more aware of the history side and the legacy side as time goes on.

“I don’t know what the emotions would be like. I would assume there would be a sense of relief. From the championships I’ve won so far, when you have a lead (entering the final race) and it’s finally over, you’re like (big sigh.”

Stewart, a two-time Cup champion, heads into the Chase armed with  a hauler-full of confidence and reality. In his first season as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart won three races and led the points for 13 consecutive week prior to Richmond.

“There’s not a sense of urgency,” he said. “It’s not like after this year I’m not going to be an owner any more. What’s happened this year has exceeded the expectations of many people. We have just as good a shot as anybody.”

Directing Stewart’s title pursuit is Darien Grubb, a first-year crew chief. There’s pressure on him to consistently make correct calls.

“(Chasers) can’t afford to have a mistake,” Stewart said. “You not only have to get off to a good start, you have to have nine more weeks behind that first one.  Every year, everybody gets smarter and smarter about how to get the best performance out of the Chase.”

The “grand old man” of NASCAR can’t wait to go Chasin’. In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports following two part-time seasons with other teams, Mark Martin, a young-at-heart 50, won four races. He also collected a series-leading six poles. Kyle Busch, the only other four-time winner this year, failed to qualify for the Chase.

“We’re ready,” Martin. “You have to run half the races to get a picture of who will be serious contenders.”

The feeling is, Martin will be one of the contenders.

New York Nuggets

Weird sight: watching Carl Edwards move around the Hard Rock Café on crutches. Edwards sustained a broken foot while playing Frisbee. No more Frisbee tossing for him while he’s a full-time racer.

* Tony Stewart isn’t a big fan of the Chasers appearing on the “Regis and Kelly” TV show. Informed that he missed a pie throwing contest on the show earlier in the morning. “Every time we’ve ever done `Regis and Kelly’ we’ve done stuff that’s totally non-related to who we are and what we’re there for. We did a fashion show the first time and the second time we were cooking.”

* During a lull in the interviews Greg Biffle discussed his favorite movies. To no one’s surprise, he likes action films.
* On a non-racing note, breakfast for two at the Broadway Diner on West 57th Street the next morning cost $41 before tip. In New York “diner” evidently has a different meaning than in the rest of the nation.

– Bill Fleischman is the racing beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Contributing Writer | , RacinToday.com Friday, September 18 2009
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