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Cup Notes: Big Wins Trump Getting A Chase Berth?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 11 2010

Jamie McMurray has won the two biggest races of the year but may not make the Chase. Good season or bad? (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Richmond, Va. – Jamie McMurray said last week he’d be hard-pressed to swap his wins in this year’s Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins next week in Loudon. N.H.

Clint Bowyer, who is positioned to grab the final spot in the Chase during Saturday night’s Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway, tends to agree with McMurray’s logic.

“You want to be greedy and have them all, but those are two big, big races that go down in the history books,” Bowyer said. “I’d probably rather be in (McMurray’s) shoes right now.

“The Daytona 500 is special and we were pretty close. It was very frustrating to watch him walk off into Victory Lane. That is a special race. To win that thing, like I said, only the best drivers in this sport have won that race and it is pretty cool.”

Roush Rebound: Despite struggling much of the first half of the season, Roush Fenway Racing will have three drivers in this year’s Chase who could all contend for the title.

Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth will each attempt to deliver car owner Jack Roush his first championship since Kurt Busch achieved the feat in 2004.

“Our program really turned around for us and is very competitive at the 1.5-mile tracks,” said Biffle, the winner at Pocono in July. “We need to figure out how it is going to do on one-mile tracks and under. We always run pretty well at Dover, so we really have Loudon, Phoenix and Martinsville as kind of question marks in the Chase for us.

“We need to figure out how our cars will perform on those tracks. Obviously, this weekend will give us some bench mark of how our cars are going to act on those race tracks, hopefully.”

Avoid that panic: Jeff Gordon is confident he can get through round one of the Chase in Loudon with a solid run.

But if things go awry in the Granite State, don’t look for the four-time champion to push the panic button.

“You don’t want to come out of there with a 30th or worse place finish, but we’ve seen that’s not that significant in the past,” Gordon said. “Ten races is a lot more racing than people realize. There are a lot of points to be gained and lost.

“When you’ve got Talladega in there, anything can happen. So I think that you want to get it started off right and I think it’s a good track for us so when we look at the 10 tracks, it’s one that I feel like we are capable of coming out of there with a strong finish.”

Deceptive numbers: One of the more interesting statistics during the course of the season had been laps led by Edwards. Entering the event in Atlanta on Sunday night, the driver of the No. 99 Ford was fourth in the championship standings despite leading just six laps this year.

But the Missouri native managed to pace the field for 32 laps during his second-place run to Tony Stewart at the 1.54-oval last weekend.

“If we have a car like that every week, we will lead laps and win races,” said Edwards, whose most-recent victory came at Homestead, Fla. in Nov. 2008. “I think I said last week that the fact that we haven’t led that many laps but have run this well in the points just shows the determination and the experience level that our team has built.

“If we have cars that can run like we ran in Atlanta, it kind of makes things easy. When you have cars that you can’t lead races with, then it takes really good decisions by the crew chief and really good pit stops and good decisions by the driver to build as many points as we have built.

“But if we can have cars like that, we are ready to do some serious good things on the race track.”

How long is too long? Last Sunday night’s 500 mile race in Atlanta, one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, featured eight relatively quick caution periods but took nearly four hours to complete.

Four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson believes NASCAR should get the pulse of the fans before tampering with the distance of races.

“At the end of the day, it really depends upon the viewing audience, the people in the grandstands and the people at home,” Johnson said. “It did seem like a long race, but as a driver Atlanta is such a fun track to run that you don’t really mind a longer race.

“Now other tracks, like Pocono, take some criticism for being a long race. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to the fans and what their viewing attention span is. And we need to be really aware of that and adjust to it.

“We have adjusted everything else to try and make our show better from different race cars, to moving the schedule around and a variety of things. So if we need to look at the race distance in the future, I would not be against it.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 11 2010
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