NASCAR

Drivers deep in points go for it

NASCAR Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon must go all out this weekend to gain ground.
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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When you look at how the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers raced at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring, who did we find atop the board?

Brad Keselowski won there in the spring, so you’ve got to believe that he and his points-leading Penske Racing team have got a race car that they’ve got confidence in. That should be capable of giving them an opportunity to once again maybe sweep another race there, just go out and sweep.

That’s pretty impressive for a guy that everybody didn’t really have totally at the top of the list when it came to the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He’s one of the guys that’s got to be really excited about Sunday's race.

But for the rest of the Chase contenders, they know what they’ve got to do. Jeff Gordon, he’s got to go out once again and put his car at the top of the leaderboard in qualifying, lead as many laps as possible and hope that these three or four guys at the top of the standings will make a mistake.

He’s only 16 points out of fifth place. So if they have a problem with Jimmie Johnson, if they have a problem with Brad Keselowski, with Denny Hamlin, if any of those guys stub their toes the least little bit, then all of a sudden you’ve brought him more into play. Especially if all three of them have a problem. Jimmie didn’t have a good spring race; Denny was just so-so. We know Brad won.

But this whole dynamic, this whole picture, could be totally different after this weekend. That’s what makes Talladega even more compelling to watch is to see how these guys elect to deal with each other’s situation.

If you are fifth on back in the standings, you can’t really be smart. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to go out there and try to force these guys to make a mistake. And you have to take advantage of it.

If not, your Chase is going to be over with before it really gets started, because you’re not going to play catch-up being 32 points behind when the lead guys keep putting up top-five finishes.

That’s my way of thinking right now. You’re going to have to go out and the guys that are on down, you’ve got to make something happen, you’ve got to turn the tide. You’ve got to do the unexpected.

We always talk about Talladega and how unpredictable it is, these guys, they’ve got to do the unexpected. That’s the unpredictable if they want to get back in this thing.

The years when we were behind in the points, racing with Junior Johnson and Darrell Waltrip, it made it easier in some ways because you didn’t have to try to overthink it. You needed to win the race, and it made it very simple. Go out and do the best job you possibly can and the rest will take care of itself.

That’s what Brad Keselowski’s doing now. He’s going out there and he’s letting the rough side drag and it’s paying dividends.

Tagged: Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski

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