NASCAR

Mac Track: Fast and steady wins the Chase

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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It's hard to believe that seven months ago, over 50 teams rolled into Daytona with zero points. On even ground, each team thought it could win the championship. While teams want to win the Daytona 500, the biggest goal headed into a new season is making the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Clint Bowyer has yet to visit Victory Lane, but he, crew chief Gil Martin and the No. 07 team feel awfully good about making the Chase. While Bowyer doesn't have a victory, he also has zero DNFs — so you can't factor him out of winning the championship. All three Richard Childress Racing teams are in the Chase, representing 25 percent of the cars. Looking back at the season, Jeff Gordon said that the first 15 to 18 races of the year were about consistency. For the last month and half, all that mattered was getting wins. But now it's back to consistency. Teams will be more conservative. They can't afford to run out of gas or step across that durability line with horsepower. That's what's so impressive about Gordon's teammate, Jimmie Johnson, this season. They have normally fallen in a late August/early September rut leading into the Chase. This year, they've hit their peak. You will see a lot of different agendas this weekend. Drivers outside the Chase like Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are possessed to win races. Juan Pablo Montoya wants to win an oval race. The final 10 races aren't just about 12 drivers. You'll see some non-Chase drivers win races in these last 10 events. They can afford to roll the dice. From 13th through 20th in the point standings, those drivers are in the same position that the locked-in Chasers have been for the last few races. They've got nothing to lose and all to gain.

Who to Watch

  • Carl Edwards: Getting away from the Chevrolet camp, Edwards and the No. 99 team definitely look like they've got their arms around the Car of Tomorrow. He had one of the cars to beat at Richmond, but they were going for it and had an engine failure. He won at Bristol, and they just seem to be on their game everywhere.
  • Jimmie Johnson: For the most part, the rest of the favorites come from the Chevrolet camp. Truth be known, if you want to win this race, you're going to have to beat the No. 48 car.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The Dale Earnhardt Inc. cars, led by Dale Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. will run awfully well at Loudon. Dale Jr. isn't running poorly anywhere even though his box scores don't really show it. If the No. 8 team can just close the door and lock it, he could be one of the non-Chasers to win one of the last 10 races. The team and driver are on a mission. He doesn't want to leave without winning a race in the last year at DEI.
  • Denny Hamlin: With a win at Loudon in July, Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart will run well this weekend.
  • What to Watch

  • Brakes and blown tires: After seeing several right front beads get cooked and blow tires at Richmond, I'm concerned about this Sunday's race. At Phoenix, Loudon and Richmond, the Nextel Cup Series runs the same tire. New Hampshire International Speedway can be just as hard on brakes if not harder than Richmond because teams run a higher gear at Loudon. The straightaways are longer, and the entrance speeds are higher this week. Teams seem to be having more brake and cooling issues with the Car of Tomorrow than with the current car.
  • Teams getting off-sequence: Loudon and Phoenix are the shortest races on the circuit, and teams running in the back try to get off-sequence on pit stops with the leaders because it's just about the only way they can get from the back to the front. If you start in the back, and a caution comes out at lap 15, you pit and hope everybody stays out. Then you run another 10 or 15 laps, get another caution, and all of the drivers that didn't pit earlier have to pit now. You stay out and get your track position. Then you need a fairly long run to get back on even ground with the leaders.
  • Speed Mail Larry McReynolds
  • Staying on track: It's a chess match in the final 50 to 70 laps, so track position and strategy are very important. Do I want to give up track position? Maybe we'll just roll the dice and change two tires. It's hard to pass, even with a little bit of progressive banking.
  • Three-stop race: In July, the pit window was 70 to 75 laps. It's a 300-lap race so you could do it on three stops, pitting at lap 75, lap 150 and lap 225 — four runs with three stops.
  • Big field, familiar face: With Same Hornish Jr. and Boris Said entered this week, the field is bigger than it has been the last two or three weeks as we push closer to 50 entries. It's good to see Ken Schrader back in the No. 21 car. When you look at the performance that those guys were having earlier in the season, Schrader wasn't the only problem there. The Wood Brothers owed it to themselves to find out if Bill Elliott could make a difference. It also gave them a championship provisional. Nobody thought the switch would take them from running 30th to 10th or 15th. If nothing else, they evaluated their equipment, which is something a team has to do when they really get lost.
  • NASCAR Performance on SPEED, Sat., 8 p.m. ET: We're going to pick up where we left off at Richmond. We talked about where to put lead ballast in a car and how and why to move it to change the weight percentages. This week, we'll explain how you change the wheel weights — not by physically moving weight — but by turning jack bolts, like you will see on pit stops. We're going to put a car on the scales and show how the changes affect it.

  • FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

    "How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

    Tagged: Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Ken Schrader, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Boris Said

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