Well we are six races into the 2010 NASCAR Sprint season, which means there are 20 more to go in the regular season. That then is followed by the 10-race Chase to crown our champion. Right now, making the Chase is all these teams are asking about.
If you would walk through the garage and ask a crew chief how things were going, nine times out of ten his answer is going to be based on how they are standing in making this year's Chase. Everything is geared toward making the Chase. Seriously, right now nothing else matters.
Look at the No. 48 for example. If you asked Chad for a summary of their season to date, I bet he would mention they have built up 30 bonus points already for when the Chase begins. They would hope to have more by the time Richmond in the fall is over and the Chase begins. At only six races in, they are already experimenting on things to use -- or, in some cases, not use -- in the Chase.
They experimented at Martinsville two weeks ago. Why? Well the fall Martinsville race is in the Chase. Sure they go to Martinsville with a ton of confidence based on all the success they've had there. Two weeks ago however, they experimented with some things to see if they could make their car even better.
They also ramped up their efforts at Bristol three weeks ago. They had never won there. What if they were out of the top 12 with the cut-off of the Chase looming and had never won at Bristol come Aug. 21? That might make things a little dicey. Well now that is eliminated. They won there now and can go into Bristol later this year with a lot of confidence.
This weekend we head to Phoenix for the race Saturday night on NASCAR on FOX. Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus own that joint. They've won five out of the last six there. Will they go in there trying to win the race and gain the valuable 10 Chase bonus points? Will they experiment even more knowing that come November they will be back to Phoenix and it will be the next-to-last race in the Chase? So it will be interesting to me to see if they go there this weekend and try some things.
Let's look at Denny Hamlin as another example. He messed up his knee playing basketball but he goes on and wins the race at Martinsville. So how bad can his knee be bothering him? What if his knee got worse as the season progressed? What if he got in a wreck and made his knee even worse? The doctors had even warned him about potential long-term damage by waiting.
So what did he do? He won the race on Monday at Martinsville and then had surgery to repair his knee. They have plenty of time to get his knee rehabbed and get themselves in Chase contention. So come mid-September when the Chase starts, he will be ready to go with no distractions. It's just another indication how hard these guys work and focus on making the Chase.
So six races are under their belts and the teams are learning a lot right now. One of the things they really seem to be figuring out is these double-file restarts, particularly on the smaller tracks. We saw it at Atlanta, Bristol and Martinsville: If you get in the wrong line for the restart and that line doesn't go, you can be in trouble.
Let's face it, the seas parted for Kurt Busch at Atlanta. The seas parted for Jimmie Johnson at Bristol and for Denny Hamlin at Martinsville. What did all three have in common? They were in the right line and their line went on the restart. I don't think it's inconceivable to think spotters and crew chiefs will be making calls to tell the driver to let someone by so that on the restart, their car can be in the preferred line. I just think it's another element that these teams are learning how to handle double-file restarts.
Unlike Jimmie and Denny who are sitting pretty well right now, there are some guys who find themselves in a wee bit of trouble right now. Look at where Juan Pablo Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are. Those three were in the Chase last year but find themselves in a hole right now.
They are flirting with being on the outside looking in come September. You also need to factor in how much better the RCR cars and the Roush-Fenway cars are running this year, it's going to be hard for some of them to work themselves back up there. They can't afford to get any further behind. Those three need to focus on points racing right now and getting themselves back up into the top 12.
That's how the Chase affects the teams on the outside or on the fringe of making the Chase. They have to give up the idea of trying to win and concentrate on getting enough points to get in the Top 12. Now I realize it's only early April, but folks trust me: Saturday night, Sept. 11, in Richmond is really not that far away and all the teams know it. When the race is over that evening, the field for the 2010 Chase is set. So from top to bottom, right now it is all about the Chase.
OH BY THE WAY
As you know I have been a big supporter since the beginning of the season of NASCAR's position of "Have at it boys." I love what I am seeing. I love the caliber of racing. I love the way these guys are getting after each other. Their aggressiveness is really helping to put on a good show. We have had six absolutely fantastic races.
The racing is as good as it's been and I think part of it is because the drivers feel they have been let out of cage. The one thing I think NASCAR is going to have to look at is folks that are getting wrecked, working on their cars and coming back out onto the track laps down simply to wreck the guy that wrecked them earlier.
Now it's one thing to be aggressive, but it's another thing to come back out onto the track simply to retaliate and put someone in the fence. That's simply not what NASCAR had in mind. That's not good for the sport. Sometime NASCAR is going to have to draw the line on this kind of action.
It's just dangerous and it's not good for the sport. If drivers get the idea that it's OK to simply get back out there to get even, well that is the wrong message we need to be sending.
"Have at it boys" - I love it. It's going great but getting back out there when you are 100 laps down for simple retaliation has to stop. We can't tolerate that.