HAMMOND: Wins Even More Crucial Before Chase

This is a crucial stretch for the teams on the verge of making the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

After the race in New Hampshire on Sunday, the teams get a much-welcomed week off. Then come the seven races, culminating at Richmond on Sept. 8, that will decide the Chase field.

Some of these guys must quit worrying about points and adopt that “win it to be in it” mentality.

Carl Edwards is the first driver who comes to my mind. I think he fully understands the sense of urgency. Kasey Kahne is another. That young man has been fighting and scratching all year long. He started out really badly and has recovered wonderfully. Unlike Edwards, however, Kahne does have a win under his belt. That said, Kasey needs a second victory to all but guarantee a spot in the Chase field.

To be honest, I am concerned about the other guys. Although I still believe Jeff Gordon has one win in him this year, I just don’t think that will be enough to get him into the Chase. Unfortunately, I am just not feeling Gordon has what it takes to get two wins in the next eight races.

So Edwards and Kahne are the two I am going to be following closely. I think Edwards is getting mad enough about how his season has been going that he will really to try to make something happen. Let me put it another way: If Edwards is running second in the closing laps of these next few races, I’ll really feel sorry for the race leader.

During the portion of my career I worked for Junior Johnson, I had the great fortune of teaming up with such drivers as Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip.

There were periods with both drivers that we simply dominated race after race. There were also periods where we were behind in the standings, and Junior would stress that we should quit worrying about the points. He wanted us to care only about winning the race because, he said, “If you win enough, the points will come.”

So I am pretty used to the idea of one’s back being against the wall and all bets being off. I liked being a crew chief in that position because it forced you to not overthink things. You, your team and your driver know what has to be done, so just go do it. Whatever it takes is what we are going to do.

I believe you are going to start seeing things happen on the track where maybe someone gets spun out and you scratch your head and wonder, “Why’d he do that?” I don’t think folks truly appreciate the pressure these drivers are under to make the Chase. We are to the point in the season where, to make the Chase, you would be willing to spin anybody to win.

Look back at the 2011 Chase. Tony Stewart barely got into the field. He went public in the media and basically said he and his team didn’t deserve to be there. They had absolutely nothing to lose at that point.

Earlier in the season, they had tried to race smart. Stewart made some mistakes; the pit crew made some mistakes. But all that was behind them after they made it into the Chase, so they decided to swing for the fence, and, boy, did it ever pay off.

Once you are one of the 12 drivers and teams to qualify for the Chase, then you can adopt any philosophy you want. After what we saw Stewart do in the 2011 Chase, I would wager that any driver will have an “all or nothing” mind-set this year.

Stewart proved to everyone how important it is to win races. Let’s not forget that he finished the season tied in the standings with Edwards, and what was the tiebreaker? Stewart had the most wins. Thus, he was crowned 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.