Ever since NASCAR switched to their version of playoffs—the Chase for the Championship in 2004 and then tweaked it with wild-cards and reduced points—the Chase for the Sprint Cup has added intensity to the first 26 races of the long season.
The last 10 races under the Chase plan brought renewed competition for fans. The changes have altered team strategy. With that added, stress plays on driver and team-member emotions. It’s a race to get in and then a race to win.
In short: Along the way, renewed intensity is bound to cause additional frustrations.
The latest race in Michigan was important for many teams as it was one of four before the contender list is reset for the Chase. Several drivers are desperate for a win or two to secure a playoff berth.
Greg Biffle roared to the finish line after 201 laps to take the checkers after Jimmie Johnson snatched the lead with less than eight laps to go only to blow an engine. Johnson uncharacteristically left the track without comment.
Five-time champion Johnson is frequently available and amiable with media, but if he chooses to exit without comment from a bad race day—that is his option and right.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart is not one to hold back and could have spewed salty comments after engine problems ended his day, but he was simply candid.
“It’s not something I’m concerned about,” Stewart said. “It’s just a bad day. We have the best engine department in the world, definitely in this series, and they did everything they could do.”
A fine edge exists between being competitive, aggressive or abusive on a racetrack. After Jeff Gordon declared his displeasure with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the track, his engine gave up as well. Later he explained.
“I don’t care who I’m racing out there; I’m going to show my displeasure if I’m not happy about something,” Gordon said. “But that one was pretty close, but no big deal. I’m glad to see he’s running good.”
Brad Keselowski and team have been near the front or winning this season, and he chased Biffle hard at Michigan to get another second place finish. Keselowski shared his thoughts about overtaking Johnson and more.
“The 48 has the most speed and the best history as far as the Chase is concerned. But it's my job to not roll over and give it to them. We're doing everything we can do, and we nailed it on that last green-flag sequence. I'm proud as hell of my guys for doing that.
“We're going to keep 'em honest through this Chase. That's our goal. I think it's good to know that they're frustrated 'cause they should be. We nailed it.”
Greg Biffle commented on Johnson and his thrilling win in the MIS media center.
“This car is so fast,” Biffle said. “Once I got out front in clean air I could pass one car at a time pretty easy. The car was really, really bad in dirty air, and I had a tough time with that. I knew my car was bad ass. I didn’t want to say anything until I got here to victory lane.
“I got it turned around and was catching him, and then he had the engine failure. It was going to be a great race no matter what. I felt like I could catch him, but we will never know. Passing him might have been a different story, but I certainly think with seven to go I could have probably pulled up close to him.”
The top dozen select NSCS “rock and drop” list this week: (includes points behind and position moves)
1. Greg Biffle Leader [+1]
2. Matt Kenseth (-20) [+1]
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-22) [+1]
4. Jimmie Johnson (-28) [-3]
6. Martin Truex Jr. (-60) [--]
8. Kevin Harvick (-85) [+1]
9. Tony Stewart (-95) [-1]
11. Kasey Kahne (-129) – [--]
12. Carl Edwards 689 (-134) [--]
13. Ryan Newman 680 (-143) [--]
14. Kyle Busch 669 (-154) [--]
16. Jeff Gordon 650 -173 [-1]
Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski are in solid contender position with their wins and points. With three races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup start, they shared confident words as well.
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Dodge)
“I can taste the legitimacy of being a championship contender,” Keselowski said. “With a little more speed today I think we could have got us a win. I know in the Chase we can get a bunch of 'em. Hopefully we'll find that little bit of speed to go with the execution we have and be in even better condition to close the deal out.”
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
“I know that a lot of people don’t expect us to win the championship and don’t expect us to compete for the title,” Biffle said. “But I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they want to talk about. We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead. I promise you that.”
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.