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Race to the Chase begins in New Hampshire

The ten-race stretch that began last Sunday with the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the make or break portion of the 26 races leading up to NASCAR’s  version of the playoffs, the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  
What began Sunday in the New England countryside will end on Saturday night, September 11, at Richmond and the Chevy Rock & Roll  400.  Following Richmond’s annual fall Cup race, the top 12 drivers in the standings will participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.   Not in the top twelve after Richmond, forget about it.  Seems the be-all, end-all that goes with the current virus in NASCAR called “Points Racing,” is making the Chase.
 If  you’re in, you are among the elite.  Your season is a success - even if you tank miserably in the season’s final ten races.   Miss the Chase and even if you get hot and reel off three of four wins in the season’s finale,  you still didn’t quite cut it.  Modern day racing.
Ten races at ten different tracks means weekly challenges.  Drivers who respond become Chase material, while those who don’t find the 12th and final Chase eligible position slipping from sight.  The hurdles include such traditional schedule stalwarts as the Fourth of July holiday weekend at the high-banked 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway, and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Indy is also 2.5 miles, but unlike the high banks of Daytona, the Brickyard is a flat, narrow rectangle.
Add short track battles at .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway and .75-mile Richmond , a 2.45 mile road course at  Watkins Glen International, a pair of speedy 1.5 mile tri-ovals at Chicagoland Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, then Michigan International Speedway’s wide two-mile layout and Pocono Raceways unique triangle layout with its three distinctive turns and long straightaways and the variety becomes dizzying, forget about week after week of cookie cutter 1.5 mile ovals.

Half of the races in the final dash for the Chase, Daytona, Chicago, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond will take place under the lights.  Fortunes can change very quickly. Two 2009 Chase participants, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers, lurked outside the top twelve after 16 races last year. Both bulled their way in during the Race for the Chase. Kahne moved up from 13th place and Vickers from 17th.
The standard, since the Chase was introduced in 2004, remains Matt Kenseth, who went from 20th place in 2005 to Chase eligibility.  He climbed eleven spots over the course of the ten races leading up to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  
“That’s really all we want is to win races and make the Chase,” said Kahne, who went into  New Hampshire Sunday in 18th pace, 151 points out of the 12th and final position needed to make the Chase.  “It’s all you think about when it comes to NASCAR as a driver, so that’s still what we’re shooting for.  We need to throw down some big races for awhile if we want to make it, but it’s definitely possible.”
Though far from assured, drivers occupying the top half-dozen positions in the points do have some breathing room. Those in  6th  through 12th place do not.  And those below the 12th place cutoff for the Chase have even less.  That latter battle is tight.  Nine drivers are within 200 points of 12th place, compared with five at this point in the season last year.
 In the Nationwide Series, She’s Back.  Once again it’s all Danica, all the time.  The IndyCar Series was off  this past weekend and  Danica Patrick retuned to the Nationwide Series to drive the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.  Her last start in a 3400 pound, 750 horsepower stock car was February 27th at Las Vegas.  “I’m really looking forward to getting back to all the cool people I’ve met, my friends, and the team,” said Patrick from Loudon, New Hampshire last week.  
In her first three starts earlier this season,  Patrick posted a best start of 15th at Daytona and a best finish of 31st at Auto Club Speedway in California.   Regardless of her on-track performance, the diminutive Ms Patrick is a virtual publicity generating machine.   New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials announced that ticket sales for last Saturday’s Nationwide race were up over 30% from last year’s race when it as announced that Danica would compete.
You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

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