NASCAR

Chase Viewer's Guide: Round 5

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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As the home track for 90 percent of the teams in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, winning at Charlotte means a lot. When Buddy Baker won for the first time at Charlotte, he woke up in his bed the next morning and couldn't wait to read the newspaper. He said, "To win at Charlotte is something that nobody can ever take away from me." There's already a lot of pressure on these teams, but racing at Charlotte just ratchets it up even more. A couple of weeks ago, an engine tuner for a team in the Chase for the Nextel Cup thought he was coming down with the flu. It turns out it was just his nerves. His stomach was that upset about the pressure of being in the Chase. Not only are Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton 300 or more points out, they need Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to have bad luck. Going for it, Burton hit the wall in Friday's practice. They can try and get track position early in the race, but it comes down to being better than Johnson and Gordon and letting the chips fall where they may. If you're at the back in the Chase, you have to forget about your competitors and win the race. That's really all you can do at this point.

Who to Watch

  • Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon: If Johnson wins on Saturday night, he'll tie Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for all-time wins at this track. Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus told me that this car has finished in the top four in 10 of 12 races. Although Gordon has five consecutive DNF's at Lowe's coming into this race, it's an odd statistic that shows where you finish but doesn't indicate how well you actually run. I expect him and Johnson to be really good at a track where they have a combined nine victories.
  • Casey Mears: The No. 25 team really has a lot of momentum at Lowe's Motor Speedway — and not just because he won the Coca-Cola 600. Even from his first day in Nextel Cup racing, he's been really good on the 1 1/2-mile tracks. He can do what Kasey Kahne did last year, and Jimmie Johnson did the two previous seasons — sweep both races this season.
  • Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler: Speaking of Kahne, he and Sadler both feel like they've got good race cars, and they both qualified pretty well.
  • Tony Stewart: The No. 20 team is going to make a move. Stewart is 154 points back, which basically is the difference of one race when you look at the points awarded for winning and finishing last. They're going to step up this weekend.
  • Matt Kenseth: Although he has performed really well lately, the No. 17 team doesn't have much to show for it the last three weeks. Like Gordon, he won his first Cup points race at Lowe's.
  • What to Watch

  • Tough, changing track: The drivers have always said there's a high difficulty factor running at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and it really doesn't matter whether it's Memorial Day weekend or October. It's a very challenging racetrack to keep up with. The track goes through changes.
  • Comers and goers: The guys that are fast at the beginning maybe aren't there at the end and vice versa. Then, you have guys that run really well, and they have some sort of tragedy at the end of the race. Joe Nemechek had a flat tire while he was leading the 600.
  • Weather or not: This track provides a pretty unique challenge, and Knaus proved a few years ago that you have to have a game plan for everything when he factored in the barometric pressure. That gives you an idea of how much teams respect this racetrack.
  • Pit Perspectives

    Jeff Burton made a good point last week about Talladega, but it also applies to Lowe's Motor Speedway. These cars are all running so fast together that the race can be won or lost on pit road. Pit crews don't have to be spectacular; they need to be efficient. Keeping up with the racetrack requires great communication and a game plan. Crew chiefs anticipate track changes and know what tuning tools to use. The driver has to say succinctly what the race car needs. On pit road during a race, there's a lot of communication that happens during the race that folks at home never get to hear. It could be the crew chief talking to the individual that figures fuel mileage. It could be the feedback that the tire specialist gives the crew chief after a pit stop — checking tire temperatures, tire pressure and tread depth. There's so much on the line that some crew chiefs won't say over the radio what changes they're going to implement. They'll give hand signals or write notes.

    Speed Mail Steve

    Finish Line

    At Talladega, it was more about the car and last-minute strategy with Jeff Gordon making a tremendous, winning move on the last lap. At Charlotte, it takes the whole package, and you've got to have all of the tools in the toolbox working at this race. You've got to have a great race car and good horsepower. You've got to be able to handle, keep up with the track and have great pit stops. The track demands excellence in every area of your race team.

    FOX football focus

  • Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET on FOX: This is going to be a great football game. The Redskins have really improved. Granted Green Bay is a better team than Detroit, but the way the 'Skins dominated the Lions, I'm going to give Washington the edge.
  • Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals: On SPEED's Trackside, I tried to get former Buffalo Bill Jim Kelly out of retirement to play for the Carolina Panthers. By the way, he has the biggest hands of any human being I've ever met besides former Miami Dolphins great Larry Csonka. It's like shaking hands with a bear. The Panthers didn't play particularly well against the Saints, but they found a way to win. Arizona is very improved, but Panthers DT Kris Jenkins got Carolina pretty fired up two weeks ago when he said they weren't playing with any heart. I know the quarterback position is really unsettled, but I like the Panthers on the road.

  • NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Nemechek

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