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2013 Chase Has Reached Its Most Critical Stage

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 6 2013

Will Kevin Harvick turn the Chase into a four-driver affair today at Kansas? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – These are the Shake Out Days in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Three races down, seven to go. Too late in the playoffs to say that everybody still has a chance at the championship, too early to say with any certainty at all who the slam dunk contenders are.

For a large group of Chasers, this week’s race at Kansas Speedway and next week’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway are the two most important of the playoffs when it comes to The Big Question: Who’s in and who’s out.

Yes, Talladega’s fall race will always be the X-Factor Race. And Martinsville will be the X-Factor Light Race. Those two races have earned their status by featuring The Big Wreck and Lots Of Small Wrecks respectively. But by the time the Cup teams arrive at Talladega high bankds on Oct. 20, and certainly by the time they hit the tight confines of Martinsville the weekend after, The Big Question will have been, basically, answered.

With all that in mind, the garages at Kansas this weekend are packed with some pretty edgy people. And those people are wielding the weapon of choice – vague answers.

Ask a Chase driver – high in the standings, low in the standings or anywhere in between – what their plan is for Kansas, you get the same answer.

Greg Biffle, sixth in points and 41 behind leader Matt Kenseth, offered his version of The Answer, saying, “Finish in the top five or win the race. That is the only thing you can do I think to keep in this thing. If one of those guys win you have to be within four or five positions of him to not let him get too far ahead of you and hopefully next week is your week. So far this weekend it doesn’t look like it is ours but that can change dramatically over the next two days.”

There are a couple of other factors that appear to be weighing on teams and drivers this Shake Out weekend at Kansas.

– The newish Goodyear multi-zone tires. They are being used for the second time. After their first use, at

Tires are a big deal in Kansas. (RacinToday photo by Jim Pedley)

Atlanta last month, reviews were positive. But that was on a worn track which was tough on tires and soft on grip. Kansas is a track with a new surface. It’s not a tire eater and features tons of grip. Ask a driver how big a deal the tires will be today and you get different answers – answers that range from huge deal to no deal. Through three days of testing and practice, teams and drivers still do not seem completely comfortable with the tire. Asked if the new tire has thrown things off for his team, Greg Biffle said, “I would have to say so. Maybe not 100-percent. It may have thrown us off a little bit.”

– The track. In addition to being repaved last year, Kansas was also reconfigured. More banking. And more banking means higher speeds and, theoretically, higher sustained engine rpm. Does the prospect of engine failure at Kansas concern teams and drivers? The answer appears to be no. Asked if engines work harder at the new Kansas, Jimmie Johnson said, “Yep, for sure. And NASCAR changed the rear-end gear ratio to help everybody coming here. I think that we could have the other gear with this tire, and the tire doesn’t have the grip that we anticipated. And our max rpm yesterday was quite a bit lower than anyone thought it would be. When we get in the draft, we suck-up pretty hard down the front straightaway to the car in front of us. You just might catch the chip in a race environment, for a lap or two, but in general the rpm is pretty low based on the rule change. And that will help all the engine shops breathe a little easier through the course of the race.”

– The weather. Temperatures were in the low 90s during Thursday’s open test and Friday’s practices and qualifying. Humidity was in the high 80s. On Saturday, the weather turned cold and the humidity dropped. In the morning practice, several cars spun in the temperatures in the low 50s. The cars of Chasers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth spun as a result of unforced errors. Saturday afternoon’s Nationwide race featured a large number of wrecks. The changed weather combined with the changed tire has, Kevin Harvick said, thrown teams a “curveball.”

– NASCAR’s newest feud. Late in Saturday night’s Nationwide race, two Cup regulars were involved in an on-track incident the ripple effect of which could have an impact today. Chase driver Kyle Busch dumped Brad Keselowski, a non-Chase driver. A very angry Keselowski threatened retaliation – retaliation at the worst possible time against the driver who sits third in points. “He’s got a lot more to lose than I do,” Keselowski said. “Like I said, I guess that’s the only good thing about not being in the Chase.” That retaliation may not come at Kansas as Busch has been struggling like crazy this weekend. But next week at Charlotte, Busch likely will not be struggling.

Yep, it’ll be interesting how the day shake out.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 6 2013
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