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Chase Strategies Shaping Up At Chicagoland

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 12 2014

Team Penske Chase drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano talk racing in the garages at Chicagoland Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

JOLIET, Ill. – As 16 drivers prepare to launch this year’s 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, this season’s new format already has each of them strategizing on how to advance to round two.

This year’s Chase will feature a trio of three-race elimination rounds that will set up a winner-take-all showdown between four drivers at the season finale in Homestead, Fla. in November.

Win during one of the elimination rounds and a driver is assured of advancing in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

Former Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth said the Chase format won’t lead him to alter from his typical racing strategy, though he admitted his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team might be tempted to save a “golden bullet” for the second round if the Wisconsin driver wins here this weekend.

“If you’re fortunate enough to win (in Chicago) on Sunday, you’re automatically in that second round. So maybe your strategy changes as far as if you had your best car slated to go to Dover, maybe you move it back to the next round because you’re already in it,” said Kenseth, the defending champion of Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400.

“Maybe that type of thing, but other than that, I think you want to finish as high as you can every week no matter what, whether you’re in the Chase or whether you’re out or get knocked out first round or you don’t.

“You’re still trying to finish as high as you can for your sponsors, for your team, for your year-end point standings because it still counts towards your points. I think you just take it one race at a time, do your best every week and see where it turns out.”

Carl Edwards strolled into the Chicagoland Speedway media center on Friday with a pep in his step and showed no signs of being a lame duck driver.

The driver of the No. 99 Ford, who will be departed Roush Fenway Racing at season’s end to move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, turned the third-fastest lap during practice earlier in the day during Sprint Cup practice.

“Nothing has changed for me. I am actually shocked by how everything has just stayed the same,” said Edwards, when asked if any meetings where team secrets are discussed. “It has been amazing. Jack Roush, Steve Newmark, Robbie Reiser, my crew and everyone…the meetings are the same, the information.

“I guess I wouldn’t know if they are keeping something from me but I don’t think they are at all. We haven’t even talked about it other than to say we want to finish this strong and win the championship. That is all anyone has said. It has been really good.”

If six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is one of the four drivers duking it out for the title at Homestead, the California native will have the advantage in the experience department.

Johnson has already participated in several championship tussles at the 1.5-mile oval in south Florida.

“We’ve been fast (at Homestead),” Johnson said. “The year that Brad (Keselowski) won (the championship) we were leading the race, and in a position to win and had a series of mistakes that took us out of contention.

“We had to go down there and race Denny (Hamlin) once and got that done. Last year we ran up front in the majority of the race (to edge Kenseth for the title).

“I definitely feel like we can go there and win. It’s not Dover for us, just being honest. But it’s still a strong track for us, and we can go down there, I think, and get the job done if need be.”

NASCAR will have a unique format to promote the sport during the upcoming series of Dancing With the Stars on ABC with two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip among the lineup of dancers.

Waltrip met the media in Chicago on Friday and said he’s already been working on his dancing moves.

“We looked at this at Michael Waltrip Racing as a way to expand our brand and talk about NASCAR to millions of people that might not know as much about our sport as we would like them to,” Waltrip said. “The opportunity to go to Los Angeles and dance is something that I’m very serious about and I can’t wait for my opportunity to get on the dance floor with Emma (Slater), my partner.

“To me it’s bigger than just that, it’s more about this sport and continuing to try to grow our team at MWR to the millions of people that will be watching Dancing With the Stars.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 12 2014
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