Every time there is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, there are several smaller races. On qualifying day, there is the race for the go or go homers to race their way into the race.
On race day, there is the race for the win, the race to stay in the top 35 in owner’s points, and around this time of the year, the race to get into the chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
As the rules state, only the top 12 drivers (in driver points) will be eligible to win the Cup championship at the end of the year. While at this time, most of the drivers in the top 12 (usually positions one to eight) are pretty much safe from being eliminated, the rest of the drivers will race each other as hard as they can to make it into the chase.
It seems that, this year, the chase bubble drivers are racing each other a bit more competitively than in years past.
It started after the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series went to Chicagoland Speedway located in Joilet, Ill.
During the LifeLock 400, last year chase bubble driver, and this year chase long-shot David Reuitmann, driver of the No. 00 Aaron's/Tums-sponsored Toyota drove his car into victory lane.
The win gave Reuitmann a small boost in points. Currently, Reuitmann sits in 18th position in the points, 166 points, almost a full race worth of points, out of the coveted 12th position.
After Chicagoland, the series moved on to the hallowed pavement of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the famed Brickyard 400. Jamie McMurray, Daytona 500 winner, and another chase bubble driver, would grab the victory after late race strategy.
McMurray, like Reuitmann, received a small point’s position boost, and he could suddenly see the Promised Land—that is, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup point’s championship.
However, McMurray would reveal that he still needs to do more to get to the chase. After his win he said, “My chase starts now.”
McMurray’s chase for the chase hasn’t gone as well as he hoped, as he now sits 15th in points and 94 points out of 12th.
Following McMurray’s win at Indy, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series moved on to the tricky triangle of Pocono Raceway, for the Sunoco/Red Cross/Pennsylvania 500, and wouldn’t you know, another chase bubble driver would go on to victory.
Greg Biffle, Driver of the No. 16 3M Ford would also use race strategy to go on to victory, but the difference between Biffle, McMurray, and Reuitmann is that Biffle is currently sitting in position to make the chase. However, he sits in 11th with a 102-point cushion over 12th.
Biffle’s win at Pocono was also important for another reason, but we will get to that in a moment.
With Pocono out of the way, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moved on to the second road course of the season at Watkins Glen International, for the Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips at the Glen.
Many chase bubble drivers had good finishes, including a sixth place finish for Jamie McMurray, but it was McMurray’s teammate and fellow long-shot chase bubble driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, who drives the No. 42 Target sponsored Chevrolet, that would grab the win.
Montoya sits a distant 205 points away from 12th in 19th, and needs a lot of luck to make the chase (since he sits more than one point race out of the 12th position, with only four races left before the chase starts.)
It seems that Montoya’s chase dreams may be over, but what is so important about getting a win before the chase, anyway?
The answer is the points. For every win that a driver gets before the chase, they will get 10 bonus points for each win. The chase starts after Richmond.
So, when the chase bubble drivers like Biffle and possibly McMurray get a win, and if they make the chase, they will be higher in the points position than they might have been, especially since currently only six of the 12 chasers have one or more wins.
While this year’s chase bubble drivers are racing for wins, this isn’t the first time that getting wins so close before the chase has happened.
Jeremy Mayfield is a perfect example of this. Before the very first chase started, going to Richmond in 2004, Mayfield had a decent season, but he was 0-26 in wins.
Then came the Richmond Chevrolet Rock and Roll 400, the last possible race that any driver could make the chase.
During that race, Mayfield would use a variety of tire strategies during pit-stops and would end up as the winner for that race. His win propelled him into the top 10 (back then, that was the point’s cutoff), and Mayfield made the chase.
The following year at Michigan, Mayfield would once again find himself without a “regular season” victory.
However, using fuel mileage, and with a little luck, Jeremy Mayfield would pilot his No. 19 dealers-sponsored Dodge to victory at Michigan’s August race.
This time, going into Richmond, Mayfield was in the chase and would make it again for the second consecutive year.
Also, in 2005, another driver, Matt Kenseth, would race his way into the chase by racing his way to a win.
Before Bristol’s night race battle that was known as the Sharpie 500, Kenseth and his No. 17 Dewalt-sponsored Ford were out of the Chase, but a win would pull him into the eighth position, and he would make the chase just two races after Bristol.
In 2006 and 2008, none of the chase bubble drivers would win in the 10 races before the chase began.
Kurt Busch would win twice in the “race to the chase” to ensure his spot for to be in the chase in 2007. Busch won at both Pocono and Michigan to make the chase that year.
Last year’s race to the chase also saw a driver, Brian Vickers, win at Michigan, with the help of fuel mileage, to help him make the chase by just a few points over Kyle Busch.
Mark Martin had a strong season last year, with four wins before the chase, but a win at Chicagoland helped Martin secure a spot in the 2009 chase as well.
With just Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond left before the official Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup starts, and chase bubble drivers like Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Matt Kenseth still looking for their first win of the season, a win in the next four weeks could make them like Mayfield or Kurt Busch in the past.
However, the other chasers, such as Ryan Newman and McMurray could look for another win to get into the chase. Either way, this year’s race for the chase sure is turning out to be interesting, with more bubble drivers winning than ever before.