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FYI WIRZ: NASCAR's Top Chasers Talk First Championship Race in Chicago

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIISeptember 14, 2011

Kyle Busch talks to crew chief Dave Rogers
Kyle Busch talks to crew chief Dave Rogers

The players in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship are set.

It’s go time for the top-12 and the top is not far from the bottom—just nine points. A total of 480 points in 10 races are available to the contenders.

The number spread looks slim under the new reduced-points system, making each finishing position vital to a good run at the trophy.

A DNF (did not finish) owing to crash or equipment failure can be crown lethal because points are so hard to replace while competent others are collecting top finishes.

As in the past, expect several drivers to plunge to the bottom early in the battle for the top.

The action at the Geico 400 on the 1.5-mile, tri-oval track at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois can be viewed this Sunday at 2 p.m. on ESPN.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin have earned a berth in the playoff grid.

Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson bring their ever-present rivalry to the Chase and will be the center of attention whenever their numbers are nearby on the tracks.

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Although eyes will be focused on Johnson’s attempt to get a sixth straight title, others bring good momentum into the fray.

Keven Harvick is fresh off a win and Brad Keselowski has had one hot summer snatching three wins despite a foot injury.

Keselowski may be a long-shot in his first Chase attempt, but he brings a strong attitude into the competition.

“I think we’ve earned at least what you would consider a dark horse,” Keselwoski said.

“This doesn’t give us anything. Nobody is going to give us anything. There’s still a lot to do and a lot to prove but, you know I don’t see any reason why we can’t be a contender. We’ve got to get off on the right foot and I think we can finish it even stronger.”

What are the strategies and mindsets for the 10-race thrust?

Some answers by drivers might surprise fans.

Many of the top-12 drivers are seasoned Chase contenders. The top-five Chasers—Busch, Harvick, Gordon, Kenseth and Edwards—shared their current thoughts. 

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)

“With the Chase starting, we know that’s where it all begins,” Busch said. “We know that building a good foundation certainly helps your chances in being able to go through the final 10 races. To me, it’s kind of like the beginning of the year.

“I think we’ve got a great team and we’ve got a great leader with Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys are excited about it. They don’t get too high and they don’t get too low, so we just make sure we keep doing our job and working as hard as we can just digging in and paying attention to details, and I think we’ll be alright.” 

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet)

“Hopefully we've got a good plan and can get (the Chase) started off on the right foot,” Harvick said. “To get the win at Richmond gives us a lot of momentum going into the next 10 weeks."

“You've got to understand that there are going to be some bumps in the road and you've got to take what you can get out of those days and just not dig yourself a huge hole. You never know what's going to happen and you've just got to take it one week at a time right now." 

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet)

“I haven’t felt like this in a long time and I love the position we are in as a team,” Gordon said. “We definitely have momentum on our side. I don’t feel that anybody has shown more strength than we have in the past 10 races.

“We have some confidence right now, but we also know it’s going to be tough during the Chase. We have to step up our game and we know there are a few tracks we have to improve at. If we can do that, we have a great shot this year.” 

Matt Kenseth (No.17 Ford)

“I feel like our performance so far this season has been good enough for us to be a contender in the Chase,” Kenseth said.

“With how fast our cars have been, combined with great pit stops, I feel like those factors combine to show that our performance is strong on the No. 17 team. I feel like we have everything we need to make a run at the Championship, but we've got to get the finishes and we've got to do the right things every week. Chicago’s been a pretty good track for us in the past and hopefully we can start off on the right foot.” 

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford)

“There couldn’t be a better track to go to for the first race of the Chase than Chicago,” Edwards said. “Since it’s a day race this time, hopefully it will be hot and slick, it will be a lot of fun and a tough race. It will be a lot like Atlanta was since it’s got some age to it. We’ve run really well on the 1.5-mile tracks so we should be really good.”

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com.

Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from official release materials provided by NASCAR and team representatives.

Photo credit: Dwight Drum at Racetake.com

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