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Consistency Is In Short Supply In Chase Chase

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 2 2013

Jeff Burton says the Chase chasers need to start piling up points. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

LONG POND, Pa. – With six races remaining until the field is set for this year’s NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Jimmie Johnson has been so dominant he could sit out one of the upcoming events and still hold a commanding points lead.

But that’s certainly not the case for the handful of drivers sitting just outside of the top 10 hoping to land a coveted berth in this year’s Chase as the series rolls into Pocono Raceway for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 500.

It’s anybody’s guess which drivers will grab the final spots for this year’s version of NASCAR’s playoffs following the race in Richmond, Va. next month.

“I think there is a lot of inconsistency this year,” said Jeff Burton, who is 20th in points. “You look at the teams that are from 10th to 20th, there’s just a great deal of inconsistency in there.

“None of those teams have shown the ability to maintain momentum. None of those teams have shown the ability from a speed standpoint or a reliability standpoint to get on a roll. Someone will, but I don’t know who that is.

Ryan Newman is mired at 16th in the standings. But the Indiana native took a huge step toward making the Chase by winning at Indianapolis on Sunday.

His victory puts him in the running to secure one of the two wildcard berths.

“Ryan winning last week puts more pressure on more teams,” Burton said. “That’s more pressure and forces people to do things that otherwise they wouldn’t do and mistakes pop up.

“So, I think the next six weeks is going to be really interesting. I think it’s going to be a dog fight.”

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are chasing the Chase. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Jeff Gordon enters Pocono as the race’s defending champion. But he sits on the Chase bubble in 10th in the driver standings.

“This is a good track for us and a good place for us to come and fight and do battle,” Gordon said Friday at Pocono. “You want to get those wins to try to secure things up for you. But we’ve got a lot of tough competitors battling for 10th and those wildcard spots.”

Fresh off his win at Indy, Newman held court with the media on Friday and was asked about the possibility of a Sprint Cup race being held on a weeknight.

“I think it would be awesome and I have said that for a long time,” he said. “I said after (last week’s Wednesday night truck race at) Eldora (Speedway) that I can’t believe they are spending $400 million at Daytona when they just need to move dirt in.

“Dirt is cheap…well, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s cheaper than $400 million. I think it would be amazing for our sport and I think Eldora was successful from a racer’s standpoint. I did not see it necessarily from a fan standpoint, but I did actually watch the race afterwards. I have a biased opinion sitting from my perspective, but I think it would be good and there is a market out there for it.

“I think it makes sense to do it during the week, and I have said that for a while. I wish that we could actually race on a week night and make it simple, and make it good for the fans so that they could come out and be a part of it and free up some of our weekends so that we can have somewhat of a normal life.”

If you’re in the Pocono area on Saturday and spot a group of bicyclists, you’re not seeing things if you think you spotted five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

“(On Saturday), I’m going to ride,” Johnson said. “It’s just for fun just to stay active and tomorrow’s ride is a lot of fun. There is a group of probably; it depends, but 8-15 guys that ride and the majority of them are all crew members.

“We have our bikes here and we will load up and ride. This is pretty hilly terrain around here so we will ride; I think this ride is about 50 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing. We will ride on a Saturday.

“It’s not a killer pace, we are not trying to race we are just riding along. If we see a little country store we will stop and grab a Gatorade and a snack, talk a little bit and head off to the next spot. It’s really a fun way to burn some calories, stay fit and get through the afternoon and not sit in the motorhome on a weekend and eat way too many calories watching television.”

*****

As you enter the gates at Pocono Raceway, you immediately notice the 2.5-mile facility’s unique layout and the two steeples overlooking the frontstretch.

But the oddities of the “Tricky Triangle” go far beyond its appearance.

A fan once ran across the track here during an event in front of Davey Allison and Kyle Petty as they battled for the lead.

During qualifying for a race here in the mid-1980s, Neil Bonnett hit a deer in his No. 12 Chevrolet.

More recently, Kasey Kahne got out of control near the Tunnel Turn and the rear of his battered car clipped a series of trees.

Burton isn’t completely surprised at the odd circumstances that occur now and then at the triangle-shaped course.

“When you’re at a 2.5-mile race track and you have three distinct corners, this is a recipe for strange things to happen,” Burton said. “It’s in a really interesting part of the country and there is so much wildlife here.

“It’s a very rural area. All that opens a door for opportunity for things you won’t see necessarily at Indianapolis for example. It’s a unique facility. There’s a lot of history here.”

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

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 2 2013
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