Rolling out of the Daytona crapshoot, those teams lucky and good enough to be in the top 12 in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points are well-positioned. Only eight races remain before the points are reset and given the scanty point system, the Top Five are likely to get their share of the 384 points available before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.
It’s time for half of the drivers and teams in the Top 20 as only 12 are going to get the chance for the coveted Sprint crown. Wins are more like treasure now. Crashes which result in even one DNF can be a mortal blow to playoff hopes. Consistency is essential.
The Jimmie Johnson No. 48 Chevrolet team this season might also be thought of as the freight train beefing its way to the top spot in the Chase. The only way for drivers lacking in points and wins to move up faster is for Johnson and top leaders to find some bad luck in the next eight races.
The pressure rises when the green flag drops for the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire on July 14.
It’s get it done now or be ready to just ride around tracks during the Chase.
Five top drivers in the NSCS—Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth—shared comments before heading into the “Magic Mile” at New Hampshire.
Jimmie Johnson claims the secret to the No. 48 team's success, besides the obvious bond between him and crew chief Chad Knaus, is simply people. Talented and dedicated personnel bring confidence and momentum. Johnson and Knaus are extremely gifted as well.
Johnson described the New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
“It’s tough to pass there,” Johnson said. “A good starting spot is important. Track position is key. Once you get up front it’s a different ball game than when you’re in traffic. Having a good race strategy and staying up front are important for a good finish.”
Carl Edwards has held onto second for many races but a late-race crash at Daytona relegated him to a 29th-place finish. The drop caused a slip to third in the NSCS points. Edwards looked quickly to the next race.
"Loudon has been hit or miss for us,” Edwards said. “It is a flat, simple track and that makes it really hard because most people know how to get around it but you have to have the car perfect and drive perfectly. The goal is to get our second win there.”
With Kevin Harvick’s comments and track results this season, it’s easy to overlook the fact that he is not returning to Richard Childress Racing. No lame duck resides in this tiger.
“I’m hoping we can get a solid result and collect good notes to build off of and have a good run during the second race there,” Harvick said. “It’s another one of those places we will have to go to first, before we will know how this new car is going to perform.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. would likely have as many fans if he were 25th not fifth in the points as he is going into NHMS. A win there would boost his Chase contender circumstances.
“New Hampshire is track I enjoy,” Earnhardt said. “It is so challenging to pass with how the car has to roll the center. You work so hard trying to get that to happen all day. I enjoy short-track racing, and the corners and the speeds there lend itself to that style.”
Matt Kenseth is having a stellar year despite some crashes and bad luck. His four wins are sure to give him a spot in the Chase, but he and the No. 20 team can advance position with good results in the next eight races.
“I’d sit around and daydream and wish and think about things like this happening this season,” Kenseth said. “But I never really realistically thought that before the halfway point that we’d have four wins and be in the running and leading all of those laps.”
Many drivers like the 1.058-mile NHMS track with only seven-degree banking, but the team that finds a way to victory lane will have members loving the Magic Mile this time around.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.