Well the Chase is off and running. Most everyone has given their predictions and lists. I agree with everyone who says that this years Chase is more wide open than the last few. With that in mind, here is what I think it’s going to take to hoist the big
trophy, and cash the big check after the "North Cuba" race (not my racial slur, BTW).
This is after all a drivers championship, and the focus is squarely on the drivers. There is not a single driver to make the Chase who isn’t capable of winning it…….. eleven of them just won’t.
Much has been said and written crediting Jimmie Johnson’s 4 Chase championship’s as much to Chad as to Jimmie. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but no one can win a championship without all the cylinders firing. Both literally and figuratively.
In this first Chase race we saw two teams roll the dice with a fuel mileage gamble. The “14” team came up craps, while the “33” team made it work. The 10 race format forces the entire team to stay on top of their game. Starting with practice they need to hit the qualifying set up. If a Chase team is able to snag the pole, even if it doesn’t give them points, it gives them a big leg up for the race.
Starting at the front is always good, for several reasons. The pole sitter has the best shot to lead the first lap, and wrap up the bonus points early. How important is that? At New Hampshire, only four chasers were able to collect bonus points.Leading a single lap in the chase pays five points. Winning a race during the regular season pays 10 Chase bonus points. This puts it in perspective. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but that’s how it is.
Probably a bigger advantage to winning the pole is pit selection.
How important is the number one pit stall? We see it demonstrated every week. When the chips are down on late race yellows, a car that had a big lead going in can lose 4-5 spots- not on tire strategy, but on pit stall position. Going from running at the front in clean air, to being mired back in the pack, totally changes things.
The new restart procedure has tightened things up considerably, but races are still decided by position on the last restart.
As competitive as Cup has become, more and more races are decided in the pits.Remember at Bristol, Kyle Busch beat Jamie McMurray for one reason: because he beat Jamie getting ON to pit road, which allowed him to get off first. I’ve seen a ton of races but I’d never seen that.
Some of the pit stop is driver controlled, i.e., speed, on and off, proper position in the box, as well as having provided good information to the crew chief, so the proper adjustments are made, etc. Much more is out of his hands, getting enough fuel, equipment violations, getting blocked in, collision with another car leaving, (because of the limited visibility of the current seats). Any number of bad things can, and do happen in the pits. If a driver is going to have a bad stop it needs to be early in the race. A bad "money stop" will kill a drivers chances, perhaps his championship. Pit stops under green is where a great crew can really shine.
Over and above the physical part of a stop, is the strategy. This is more the crew chief. Short pit, stay out, two tires versus four, gas, and go. The driver should have some input, but it pretty much has to be in code. It’s important that the driver knows how the stop is going down.
Another thing that’s not stressed as much as I think it should be, is just plain old fashioned LUCK- both good and bad. Even the best parts break from time to time. Other cars get tangled up and leave a driver no where to go. Teams roll the dice like the “14” and “33,” coming up roses, or just short.
The 2004 Chase was totally decided by luck. Kurt Busch loses his wheel, just at the entrance to pit road. If it had happened 50 feet further down the track, Jimmie would now be going for six! I know what they say about luck, but sometimes it’s just that.
Another key player, who if he does his job well, gets pretty much
overlooked, is the spotter. Things happen fast under green, if the spotter is just half a tick off with his information, the results can get ugly fast.
It’s the driver who gets the lion’s share of the glory, & money, but they can’t do it without every cog in the machinery meshing perfectly. NASCAR seems to want it’s Championship to be like the "stick and ball” sports. Maybe it’s time to really be like them, &=and award rings to everyone associated with the winner.
That old sports cliché about "no I in team" is never more apparent.