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Race Day: Avoiding Chasers Is California Dreamin’

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 10 2010

The 2010 Chase moves to Southern California – also known as Jimmie Johnson country – for today's race. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

It’s Chase time and everybody knows what that means. Among other things it means Chase drivers will complain that non-Chasers are not giving them proper deference on the track and the non-Chasers will complain that Chasers think they are immune from rough play.

It happened last weekend after Chaser Kyle Busch and non-Chaser David Reutimann played tagged a couple of times at Kansas Speedway.

So up, once again, pops the question: Should non-Chasers give a wider berth to Chasers during the final 10 races of the season?

Here is was a select group of Chasers said:

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “I think that’s the beauty of our sport and our whole Chase that we have is that what makes it unique is that you’re racing against everybody out there and one of those challenges comes that you have to race those guys hard and clean and recognize that you’re going for a championship.

“They have something out there to prove as well and they have to recognize the same thing.  To me, you should not go into the Chase expecting guys  that aren’t in the Chase to give you any extra leeway.  That’s not the way it works.  I had a heck of a battle with Ryan Newman last week and I felt like I was a lot faster than him.  Had we got by him, it would have gotten us a couple extra spots.  But he’s racing for position, racing for things that are important to him and he didn’t want to budge or give up on that so I respected that.”

Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: “It’s all respect. It all comes down to respect; no different than you working in an office or anything else.  It’s all about respect.  If you show respect and give respect, then you are going to get it back.  There is a lot of people and a lot of situations where you need to take care of business.  It’s no different than the 11 car and the 29 car, and miraculously 30 minutes later get into it in practice.  There just has to be respect out there and when there is not, things happen.”

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: “The same way he races them every week. As a Chase driver this year, it is easy for me to stand here and say ‘Well, if I am a Chase driver, I should get a special consideration.’ Is that I felt last year when I wasn’t a Chase driver? The reality of it is that this race this weekend is as important to the team that is 20th in points as it is to the team that is first in points.

“Now, I understand that in reality that isn’t the case. But if the team that is 20th in points doesn’t come here with the same intensity and their sponsor doesn’t feel like they’re getting the same opportunity be successful and their team members don’t feel like they are getting the same opportunity to be successful, then, that is a major problem. So last year, when I wasn’t in the Chase, I came to every race looking to win the race. The same way I went to every race before the Chase.”

Fast facts

Race: Pepsi Max 400

Track: Auto Club Speedway

Place: Fontana, Calif.

When: Sunday, 3:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Race distance: 200 laps/400 miles

Estimated pit window: 40-44 laps

Track layout: 2-mile oval

Banking: 14 degrees in turns

2009 winner: Jimmie Johnson

2009 polesitter: Denny Hamlin

Today’s polesitter: Jamie McMurray

Website: autoclubspeedway.com

Don’t bother me, kid

Voting for the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame is scheduled for Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.

Tony Stewart on Friday was asked who he would like to see elected.

Stewart: “I haven’t even looked to see who is on the ballots yet. I’ve been a little busy. We’ve got this Chase-thing that we’re doing.”

Trivia time

Auto Club Speedway began hosting two Sprint Cup races per year in 2004. Next year, it goes back to being a one-race track. During the two-race era, how many drivers swept at the Fontana track?

Short not sweet

Today’s race will be the first 400-miler at Auto Club as all others have been 500-milers. Good or bad?

For Carl Edwards, bad.

“I work really hard to be as fit as I can be,” Edwards said. “My trainer, Dean, from Carmichael Training Systems, we work really hard to be prepared for these long races.  I can’t believe I didn’t know this was a 400-mile race.  This race track just seems like one of the hottest race tracks we go to sometimes. When the sun is out here there is no escaping the heat, so I feel that those long races play into my strengths physically, and then I feel that from a handling standpoint and the way the car drives, I think the hotter and slicker it is suits me and our team as well.  I grew up racing at dirt tracks and I really like when the car moves around a lot.  I really enjoy that.”

Sad news

Former NASCAR driver and current USAC racer Shane Hmiel was involved in a wreck during qualifying for Saturday’s SUMAR Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track.

Hmiel was qualifying for the Silver Crown race Silver when he lost control.

Hmiel was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and immediately placed into a medically-induced coma to reduce cranial pressure and minimize swelling brought on by his head trauma. He is listed in critical condition.

Trivia answer

No driver ever swept two races at Fontana. Jimmie Johnson won the spring race there this year and is looking to become the first sweeper.

Farewell, Fontana

There are mixed feelings about Auto Club losing one of its dates next year. California native Jeff Gordon said it was time, however.

“This race track has struggled,” Gordon said. “I think it’s been obvious that while we have a

Jeff Gordon says taking a race from Auto Club is the right thing to do. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

great fan base out here and I think we want to maintain that, you have to look at the sport, the whole sport and everything that’s going on.

“When you leave Kansas Speedway and we’ve got an incredible crowd and just a huge group of fans are there and you look at how that race track and surrounding areas are growing. They’re building a casino and all those things. It just makes more sense for us to be there.  Whether it’s the economy, whether it’s this market.

“They can’t even get an NFL franchise to work in this area.  There’s something about this area that is really tough when it comes to sports franchises and sports entertainment in general. I think that right now it’s the right move. Hopefully we can get back to selling out this race and utilizing this market because it is a great market and then maybe one day come back and have two races.”

Happy birthday

Dale Earnahardt Jr. turns 36 today.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 10 2010
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