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Race Day: Chase Talk Moves To Front Burner

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 15 2010

Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer talk racing in Michigan. Harvick is first in points, Bowyer is 13th. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

NASCAR has entered that period of the season when it is no longer possible for its teams and drivers to brush aside questions about the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

The playoffs are in the competitors’ faces. Questions about the Chase can no longer be dealt with by such quips as; “We will deal with that when it gets closer” because it is so close, they can smell its breath.

Beginning with this afternoon’s Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway, there are just four races until the start of the playoffs.

For the teams comfortable with their chances of getting in, the next month will be a time to harvest bonus points and momentum. For those on shaky ground, its a time to hustle every single position they can get on the track. For the hopeless, it’s a time to race for pride and 2011.

A select group of drivers were asked about the Chase earlier this weekend at MIS and here is what they had to say:

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (9th in points): “If you start ninth, 10th, 11th or somewhere in there and you could definitely win the championship. I don’t know what the average finish is for everyone the last five races. I didn’t know ours was 4.6, but I’m assuming if you could run like that for 10 races in the Chase, you could probably win the championship. That’s the thing about our sport right now, it’s so competitive. This Chase, there’s no guarantee. Whoever is 13th or 14th right now could win the championship. They could dominate it. It changes so fast. Things happen so quickly in this sport and advantages are gained and lost, but someone could definitely win the championship that’s not up there in front right now.”

Mark Martin, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (12th in points): We need to go out and really run strong. I don’t think we can make the Chase unless we go out and run strong. So what we do, we put our effort toward that. And then if we don’t run really strong, it isn’t because the effort wasn’t in an offensive way. You know what I’m saying? So, if we don’t go out and look really strong, it doesn’t mean that we’re playing defense; what we were really doing was our very best. And that’s what we’re going to do – put our best foot forward, put an enormous amount of effort into picking up our game, really more than last year, because last year we were on it so we were just refining what we were doing. This year we’re really pushing hard to find a way to step it up.”

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (1st in points): “I think that Jimmie Johnson is still the guy to beat until somebody beats him because he’s won the last four (championships). So, I think we’ve all seen this movie before across the last four years and I think you’ve got to respect that until something changes. So we’ve run well but in the end, we’ve done our first job and that’s to most likely be in the Chase. And now our second job is to make it happen over the last 10 weeks. We’ve made it happen so far over 20-some weeks but still, it’s got to happen over the last 10 (weeks). So anything can happen and we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Fast Facts

What: Carfax 400

Where: At Michigan International Speedway; Brooklyn, Mich.

When: Today, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, noon ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 2-mile oval

Banking in turns: 18 degrees

Banking in frontstretch: 12 degrees

Banking in backstretch: 5 degrees

Race distance: 200 laps/400 miles

Estimated pit window: 40-44 laps

2009 winner: Brian Vickers

2009 polesitter: Brian Vickers

Today’s polesitter: Kasey Kahne

Name game

Jeff Gordon and wife Ingrid had their second child this week. They named the baby boy Leo Benjamin Gordon. Why?

“It’s just through some friends and you talk names a lot when you’re pregnant for nine months. My wife talked a lot about names with friends and just people come up to her asking about the pregnancy, asking about names, and Leo was one that came up and we loved it. We started working the Benjamin in there as the middle name.  You know, Gordon is not the easiest name to put a name with—it’s just not. You need a single syllable really. It’s either a single or triple syllable name to make it work, and then you start running into the initials and you’ve got so many issues that come along with names. You have no idea how much goes into this.  LBG—We’re good with that.”

By the way, Leo Gordon was also the name of an actor who specialized in playing gangsters and Old West bad guys. One of his directors, Don Siegel, once called him the “scariest person I ever met”. Gordon, the actor, was real-life tough guy who did time in San Quentin for armed robbery.

Trivia time

Which driver hold the record for most laps led at Michigan?

Peace of mind

Mark Martin has been on the spot ever since it was announced that his team owner, Rick Hendrick, had signed Kasey Kahne to drive the No. 5 car in 2012. Martin was repeatedly asked if he would turn the car over to Kahne for 2011. When he said no, some in the media ordered him to. Martin held fast.

This week it was announced that Kahne would go to Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season and then to Hendrick the following year.

Martin was asked this weekend if the pressure put on him had been a distraction.

“As much as we would like it not to be, now that it’s behind us, it does a feel a little lighter,” he said. “So, I would say that we did the best that we could under the circumstances at managing all of that, and the air does feel a little lighter. We all really enjoy working together, and we’ve been doing a lot of that together, not just at the NASCAR events, but we’re putting a lot of effort away from the events as well, and picking things up. It feels fun again. We hope to keep this positive momentum going forward.

“I reflect back on how I reacted in Indy and regret what I said there. That came from the heart and not from the head. It was grinding on me, and I apologize for what I said and wish I hadn’t said what I said. I should’ve just continued to hold on to the high road just a little bit longer, and it would’ve been all okay. Anyway, we’re moving forward now.”

Track tidbits

Most victories: 9, by David Pearson

Most poles: 10, by David Pearson

Most top fives: 21, by Cale Yarborough

Most top 10s: 29, by Bill Elliott

Most lead changes in a race: 65 (1981)

Fewest lead changes: 7, (1984)

Most cautions: 10 (2006)

Fewest cautions: 0 (three times)

Most caution laps: 63 (1975)

Most laps led by a winner: 162 (1989)

Closest margin of victory: .085 seconds (2001)

Widest margin of victory: 8.2 seconds, 2004)

Frustrated Jimmie

MIS is one of very few tracks where four-time series champion Jimmie Johnson has not won a Cup race. He was asked about his frustration with that.

“Yeah, I would say Sonoma and Bristol were my most frustrating tracks and now this would be the third. Now that I’ve gotten those out of the way, I think out of the tracks that are left, this is definitely it. Last year was so disappointing to lead and dominate both races and then run out of gas. We’ve seen fuel mileage bite us here before that and then there were a few races where some tire strategy worked out. One, we got beat by two (tires), so the next time we tried two and got beat by four (tires), so we’ve been all around a victory and just haven’t nailed it yet. We’re hopeful we can get it done. We ran decent in the spring but I’m not coming in here with the confidence that I did, say, last year knowing that we led both races and all that. But it’s a long race and a track that I really enjoy running on and so does (crew chief) Chad (Knaus). So I feel we’ll be good and hopefully we can get that win.”

Trivia answer

Cale Yarborough holds the record for most laps led at Michigan Internatoinal Speedway. He led 1,308.

Up next

From Michigan, the series moves to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Irwin Tools Night Race.

Kyle Busch won the race last year at the .533-mile, high banked track in eastern Tennessee, and Mark Martin won the pole.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 15 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Marybeth says:

    I really liked your article about Jr. on msnbc.com. :) One of the best written in quite awhile.