getting locked in
Every time NASCAR tweaks its Chase for the
Sprint Cup format, the teams likewise change
their approaches to getting in to the postseason and then, once locked in, prepping
and racing for the 10-race Chase itself.
This year, the Chase field has been
expanded to 16 drivers – win once in the
26-race regular season and you’re probably
in; win twice and you’re locked in. The only
proviso being that you have to finish top 30
in “regular season” points to seal the deal.
For Dale Earnhardt Jr., being locked into
the Chase (courtesy of wins in the Daytona
500 and Pocono) meant he didn’t have to
worry about running well on the road
course at Sonoma, Calif., one of his worst
tracks. For the first time in years, Earnhardt
didn’t do any road course testing.
“We decided not to work that hard and
win. win. you’re in
just go there without a test and wing it,” said
Earnhardt ahead of the June 22 race. “We’ve
got teammates to test it, so we’ll see what
they liked, and we’ll go knowing we don’t have
to dig and gouge for every single position and
don’t have to worry if it’s a total disaster.”
After Earnhardt won the season-opening
Daytona 500, two weeks later he ran out of
Keselowski noted of Earnhardt and crew chief
Steve Letarte. “I look forward to being able
to take those same opportunities because,
believe me, I’m not scared to take them.”
As far as teams locked into the Chase
trying exotic setups and radical changes
over the summer, yes, there’s certainly
some of that. But with the proliferation of
computer simulation, it’s less pronounced
than it might otherwise be. What being
locked in does do is let teams give their crew
guys more time off so they can be rested for
the Chase, and also save their tests and
best cars for NASCAR’s playoff round.
And, besides, it isn’t like the teams
locked in have already quit trying to win.
“For me, it just doesn’t work that way,”
says Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin
Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing. “Anybody
who knows me, if we’re not the fastest car
in practice, I’m not happy. And if we don’t
sit on the pole, I’m not happy, and if we
don’t win the race, I’m not happy. We’ve
just got to keep working to make our team
better, and I think the best way we’ve got
to do that is to keep bringing good cars to
the track and keep trying to win races.”
With two “regular season” wins guaranteeing a place in NASCAR’s Chase, the game has changed
fuel on the last lap trying to win in Las
Vegas. It was a gamble he likely wouldn’t
have taken last year, when race wins weren’t
the be-all and end-all for Chase eligibility.
“It was a good, risky move on their part
because they had nothing to lose because
of this format,” Las Vegas winner Brad
dale earnhardt jr.
“we don’t have to dig and
gouge for every single
position and don’t have to
worry if it’s a total disaster”
“Lottery” races at Talladega (ABOVE), or
a bad day on a road course, don’t mean
as much when getting in the Chase is all
about winning. (BELOW) Earnhardt Jr.
and Jimmie Johnson are both locked in.