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The Fight For 12th Heats Up

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 9 2010

The dust flies as Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer fight for position at The Glen. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The cry of  ‘We’re number 12” isn’t real rich in panache, but a large handful of Sprint Cup teams are clawing like crazy for the right to issue it these days.

The chase to the Chase – that is, the pursuit of the 12th and final playoff berth – was down to five races when the green flag dropped at Watkins Glen International on Sunday afternoon.

And on the track, the small “c” chase was firing the emotions with a big “E”.

After an incident with part-time driver Boris Said pushed him off the track and relegated him to a 24th-place finish, Chase chaser Greg Biffle exploded.

“It sucks when you have to drive with people with their heads in the wrong place,” Biffle said.

When the Cup teams report to Michigan International Speedway this week for the Carfax 400, eight drivers will be within 175 points of 12th place. That means there will be eight drivers living and driving on the edge at the big, super-fast oval.

All will be lusting after being No. 12 – or better – at the end of the day.

“It’s still a great race for that position,” Ryan Newman, who finished 12th at The Glen and is two spots and 83 points behind current No. 12 points guy, Mark Martin. “There’s a lot that we’re racing for. Everybody is racing hard. There’s a lot of pressure on us.”

Martin started the day Sunday 13th in points. He was behind Clint Bowyer in the chase and, for much of race, on the track. But suddenly, Bowyer pulled off the track and into the garages with a broken frame.

Martin said after the race that he was not aware of Bowyer’s issues. But he sure was aware of his points position after the race: tenuous, at best.

“We got better at Chicago, Indy and Pocono,” Martin said. “Now we need to get better yet at Michigan.  If we can do that, keep gaining momentum in these last four then we’ve got a shot at it.  But if we trip and stumble anywhere, it will be curtains.”

Bowyer said the broken frame – which his car also suffered at the Infineon Raceway road course this year – may have meant curtains to his chances of being a Chaser.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said after the race, “it is catastrophic, for now.”

But maybe not fatal, thanks to hustle.

Bowyer’s crew got out the torch in the garage and welded the frame back together – a testament to how badly they want to remain in the top 12 – and the Richard Childress Racing team salvaged a 32nd-place finish and some valuable points.

As a result he will head to MIS just 10 behind Martin.

“I was able to drive back up through them,” Bowyer said. “I knew I would be able to.”

Bowyer said he needed a couple of more laps and if he would have got them, he thinks he could have headed to MIS still in possession of 12th-place.

Asked if his car was as good after the fix than it was before, he said, “It broke the truck arm mount and when they welded it, they pulled it back a little bit so it cocked the rear end a little bit sideways. Made it a little bit looser in the rights than in the left, but we didn’t have anything to gain right there. We just had to ride and hope the caution came out. It did a couple times and helped, but we needed it to come out one more time.”

The pressure on the chasers will amp up even more this Sunday, of course. Almost to desperation levels.

“We’re working,” Martin said, “we’re trying … we’re digging as hard as we can go.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 9 2010
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