Many say that the most important race in the ten race playoff is the last one, Homestead-Miami. That's the one you need to survive in order to win the championship, race number ten and if you've made it that far then you begin to tell yourself "just 267 more laps to run and you're a champion."
However to be crowned the Sprint Cup champion you need to survive all of the tricky tracks and know how to overcome any setback that arises. The race that's going to make you a champion or end your season early is New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the first race.
It's called the Magic Mile for a reason, some special things have occurred there. Robby Gordon and Clint Bowyer's first career win, Jeff Burton leading all 300 laps which hasn't been done since.
If you put on a good showing at New Hampshire it could help guide you toward the Cup, just ask Kurt Busch. In 2004, the first year the Chase was used, he won the race, his only win in the final ten events. But it was enough to catapult him to his first championship.
The following year he was not so lucky. Trying to defend his championship he was wrecked early on by Scott Riggs and finished thirty-fifth. Things continued to go downhill from there as by the eighth race he was ninth in points. Then he was arrested and subsequently suspended by Roush-Fenway Racing for the remainder of the year.
Three of the four Chase for the Championship winners have all left New Hampshire with a top six finish. Kurt Busch won in 2004, Tony Stewart led the most laps and finished second in 2005 and Jimmie Johnson finished sixth in 2007.
The only driver whose had a terrible race at the Magic Mile and was able to climb back and win the title was Jimmie Johnson in 2006. But that was the year where everything went right for the Lowe's team. That day in New Hampshire Johnson had to deal with a sour engine and then was hit by Sterling Marlin and slamned the outside wall. He finished thirty-ninth and fell a hundred and thirty-nine points behind the leader.
"I hope I don't eat the words I said early on when I said you can't win the championship here in New Hampshire, but you can lose it," Johnson said that day. "Hopefully, this won't keep us from being the champion when it is all said and done."
It didn't for Johnson but it did for Kyle Busch. On the same day Busch finished thirty-eighth and wound up a hundred and forty-six points behind the points leader Kevin Harvick, tenth in points and that's exactly where he finished at seasons end.
Statistically, the drivers who have finished in the top five in points and contended for the championship all the way down to Homestead-Miami, had performed well at the Magic Mile. If you start out fast right out of the box in Race No. 1 then that momentum will help end your season on a very high note.