It’s only Chase Race #4 but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chasers will try to even the score this weekend at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. This is the first time the points in the Chase have been this close since the Chase format began and it has made every “Chase” weekend very interesting so far. From this fan’s view, I don’t expect this weekend to be any different. The question I have is, “Will it continue like this all the way through, or will the top three to five begin to separate themselves from the rest of the top twelve?”
Even though the attention is focused on those in the top twelve, once again the front row has non-Chasers in it. Jamie McMurray took the pole and Elliot Sadler had the second fastest lap in qualifying and the two of them make up the front row for the Pepsi Max 400. Judging from the overall results in the first practice and qualifying, this actually could be the week a non-Chaser takes the trip to Victory Lane.
I always have my doubts about qualifying giving an idea of how the race will go, but there are some places it does have to be taken into account. Auto Club Speedway is one of those places and I do find several things interesting about this weekend in Fontana. It is a fast track and it requires horsepower to get down the long straight-aways and being able to get back in the gas sooner than the rest in the not-so-banked turns. So, does that mean the rest should pack it in just because they qualified outside the top twelve? No… it just means qualifying has to figure into the mix of who might win this weekend.
As expected, RCR and Clint Bowyer’s #33 team, had the penalties against them upheld, although slightly reduced, and they have accepted the fact they don’t have much of a chance to win the Chase. They have made the decision they are going to try and finish as high as they can in the points but they have a ways to go. The #33 team joined all but Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson in qualifying outside the top twelve. (Interesting that two of the ones that needed to show strength, Biffle and Kenseth, qualified in the top eight for this weekend, just as Jimmie Johnson.)
Although a Chevy sits on the pole, two Fords sit in the next two positions followed by the Chevy of Jamie McMurray’s teammate, Juan Montoya, (which says something about the Earnhardt/Ganassi race teams possibilities for the weekend.) Kasey Kahne’s RPM Ford sits in the fifth spot and he’s another driver outside the Chasers that could win this weekend.
Look, I know race-day goes a lot different than the practice times and qualifying, but let’s look at why this weekend could be a little different. First, it is becoming more and more obvious the Fords are back on track when it comes to being competitive. Yes, it is true they were a little behind the curve but they have proven to be formidable competition in the last several weeks. Greg Biffle winning last weekend is a great example of their advancement. He didn’t just win; at the end of the race he was ahead by eight seconds and pulling away. All of the Fords are benefiting from the alliance between Richard Petty Motorsports and Roush/Fenway. Between the two, they have gained in handling and in horsepower and it shows at the end of a race.
Even the Michael Waltrip Racing team of Martin Truex Jr qualified sixth for this weekend. Since all eyes are basically focused on the top twelve, it appears more and more of these teams are going unnoticed but they are making noise for themselves. (Does anyone remember what happened with David Reutimann and Kyle Bush last weekend? Yeah, two things about that… they are a non-Chaser and a Chaser and one of them races for Michael Waltrip Racing. Has anyone heard much about MWR except for that since the Chase started? Yeah… that’s what I thought.)
When it comes down to it, everybody, whether they’re in the top twelve or somewhere in 13th to 43rd, is showing up to be as competitive as they possibly can. (Well, that is everybody but the “start and parks” and we all know in their own way they are doing everything they can, too.)
Personally, I think this weekend is going to be… uh… interesting to say the least. I really do believe this is a weekend that a non-Chaser could actually end up taking the checkers, but I also have to remember that a lot of the Chasers are quite capable of taking them, too and I’m not quite ready to kick them to the curb for the weekend. Greg Biffle definitely has the “Big Mo” on his side but even with that going on, he has a tough race ahead of him. His team-mate, Matt Kenseth usually has a good day at Fontana and I don’t expect him and his team to lay down and die. They are going to be pushing for every point they can get. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are going to press him, too and, as much as people are tired of hearing me say it, either one of them can win this weekend.
In all honesty, I just can’t get the thought out of my head that one of the EGR teams is going to end up in Victory Lane. Will it be Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya?
H-m-m-m, I don’t know… does either one of them drive a Ford?
See ya next time… Rusty
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© October 9, 2010 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com
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