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Some Will Push Darn Hard To Wear The Crown

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 30 2011

Jimmie Johnson got some help with his forward bite at Martinsville in the spring. Some drivers say they will get quite pushy to win a championship. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

An interesting question made the rounds during Friday’s “hauler chats” at Martinsville Speedway as several Chase drivers were asked how far they would go to win a championship.

The tone of the answers seemed to be: Pretty far.

Some of the answerers would not rule out spinning out fellow competitors to get their hands on the crown.

Here is how a select group of the Chasers answered questions about: How far?

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver (points leader), when asked if would spin somebody: “That particular question, ‘Are there some guys you would spin out to win the championship?’  Right now, I can’t say that if we’re at Homestead and it’s the last lap and the guy in front of me, all I have to do is get in front of him to win the that I would spin out.  But I’m not in that situation right now.  I don’t know.  I’ve learned the hard way.  You’ve got to be careful about wrecking people on purpose.  You never know what the outcome of that will be.”

Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver (second in points), when asked where he draws the line on “how far?”: “I think you do everything you can do in the car, on pit road, the whole

The racing is always tight at Martinsville Speedway. Sometimes it is tighter than tight. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

thing, for performance and no more. Whenever I’ve tried to do more than I’m capable of doing, it’s never had a good result.  I certainly didn’t finish better because of it, so you just go out and race as hard as you can, get the best finish you can.  If you’re desperate the last race you might do something strategy-wise or something like that to get you in a spot and get lucky for fuel mileage or a couple tires for track position or something like that, but as far as the racing part of it, you race as hard as you can every week.”

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driver (fifth in points), when asked where he draws the line: “I think the line is further away when you’re 26 points behind with four races left. What’s fair in my mind is probably not what’s fair in the guys (minds) in the first two spots. It’s just a matter of doing what you have to do for your team and sometimes fair in the end, doesn’t win the championship.

“It’s one of those things where you do what you have to do to try to win the championship and you suffer the consequences later.”

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet driver (fourth in points) when asked “how far?: “I think the racing has always been about taking the rules that’s you’re given and pushing the envelope and pushing it to the limit, but don’t, in my opinion, don’t go over it. NASCAR has done a good job in making sure the penalties reflect the crime. I think if you’re willing to take the risk, I mean if you’re willing to put yourself and your team and your organization in that position, if you get away with it great; (but) I just don’t see the risk and the reward being even. You give up an awful lot if you get caught trying to fudge something that’s this much better that can take you out of a chance to win a championship.”

Fast facts

Where: Martinsville Speedway; Martinsville, Va.

Racing at Martinsville can produce instant aggravation. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

When: Today, 1:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Race distance: 500 laps/263 miles

Track layout: .526-mile oval

Frontstretch: 800 feet

Backstretch: 800 feet

Banking on straightaways: 0 degrees

Banking in turns: 11 degrees

2010 winner: Denny Hamlin

2010 polesitter: Denny Hamlin

Today’s polesitter: Carl Edwards (based on points)

Website: martinsvillespeedway.com

Points leaders: 1. Carl Edwards, 2,237; 2. Matt Kenseth, 2,223; 3. Brad Keselowski, 2,219; 4. Tony Stewart, 2,218; 5. Kevin Harvick, 2,211; 6. Kyle Busch, 2,197; 7. Jimmie Johnson, 2,187; 8. Kurt Busch, 2,185; 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,163; 10. Jeff Gordon, 2,155; 11. Denny Hamlin, 2,153; 12. Ryan Newman, 2,149.

Trivia time

Ford drivers will start today’s race first and second in points. But, the sport’s smallest and oldest track has not been kind to Ford Racing in the recent past. Who was the last Ford driver to win a Cup race at Martinsville?

Keys to victory

Howard Comstock of Dodge Engineering explains this week’s keys:

A New Tire:  “We have a new tire for the race.  In the past, I think we’ve seen some instances of people pitting more frequently than necessary.  The tire was good enough and could have been run longer, but some teams had a different opinion.  They made more pit stops than they probably needed to, giving up track position.  I think it’s been proven over the years that track position wins more races here than tires.

“Now, the game has changed.  We have a softer tire this year.  Without a lot of practice, teams have to be careful to realize the lesson’s that they learned last year may not apply at this race.  It’s a new game.”

Where They Start:  “We’re this far into the Chase; it’s OK that we start this way (on points).  It’s an

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski is third in points. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

important race for everybody; it’s really important for the top eight.  I think it’s OK they start on points tomorrow.  It’s a level playing field when we start.  Let the best team win.  At least somebody didn’t get a bad break, a bad lap, a bad start that is going to cause the Chase to be changed significantly because of one bad qualifying lap.  Let the guys that have proved themselves during the year start up front and let’s just race 500 laps.”

Brakes – An Issue:  “I don’t think brakes will be an issue.  The brake technology has become good enough that teams understand it and know how to manage it.  The top-line drivers clearly understand you can’t go flat out for 500 laps here or you will run out of brakes.  It’s brake management.  The teams understand the technology, the drivers understand the limitations.  I don’t think we will see brakes an issue.”

Mother Nature:  “With temperatures in the 50s and the soft tire, it should be some fast laps.  It will be a competitive race.  There are a lot of people that are close enough (in the Chase) still that coasting is not going to cut it; you’re going to have to do some racing.  There are enough people close, enough people right on the fringe that could get back in this thing.  We’ve seen several drivers that we’ve considered completely out of it come back into the mix.  I think there are some of those guys on the fringe that will be pressing pretty hard tomorrow based on the fact we’ve seen comebacks this year.”

Interesting driver suit

Jeff Gordon was asked about Halloween costumes on Friday. Specifically about his most memorable. It went like this:

Gordon: “Yeah, but not dressed up as anybody. I was a one-night stand one year. I was a night stand, with like a lamp shade on my head.”

You said a one-night stand.

Gordon: “I was a one night stand.”

Did you have a date?

Gordon: “Yes, it was my wife. She left a note on the night stand too.”

Which said?

Gordon: “It said she had a good time.”

Trivia answer
The last Ford driver to win at Martinsville was Kurt Busch in 2002. He was driving for Roush Racing at

Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR's oldest and shortest race track. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

the time.

Goose cooked?

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is seventh in points and 50 behind leader Carl Edwards, was asked if he is ready to concede this year’s crown.

“As long as we are still mathematically in it, I’m not going to give up hope,” he said. “I just never been one to lay down on something or to quit and not try, we have four races left on the schedule, stuff can happen. That window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller especially with these last two weeks, but it is not over until it is over. In racing, a lot of weird things happen and we will just see. If that door or window closes on winning the championship, again I want to finish as high as I possibly can in the points for my team, and for my sponsors. I have been able to be in the top-five in points since I started at the Cup level, I would love to keep that stat alive; so there is still a ton to race for including a championship. We just take it race by race.”

Up next

Five hundred miles at Texas Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin swept both races at Texas a year ago. Matt Kenseth won the spring Texas race this season.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 30 2011
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