With just five races before the Chase field is settled, some teams are trying to maintain position, some teams are hoping to move into the top 12 and other teams just want to win.
Fresh off his Pocono win, Greg Biffle needs to continue his charge to pad the points between himself and 13th-place Mark Martin. Biffle’s advantage is a mere 122 points over Martin. For the No. 16 team and Biffle, the strategy is simple.
"I just have to keep it on the track," Biffle said who starts seventh on Sunday. "Keep the gear box in it, keep the brakes on it and not make any mistakes in pit road.
"The cautions have to fall right for us too, and we need fuel mileage. Everything is a factor when it comes to the race on Sunday, but we have a good car to start with."
Biffle’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards is in an equally precarious position. Only 14 points separate the Roush drivers, but Edwards locked down the pole position with a lap of 124.432 mph. He will have the benefit of the first pit stall for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen and a pit crew that continues to make significant strides.
"The race has the potential to be a way different race," Edwards said. "You might not get those stops. I have a great pit crew right now, so I welcome trips to pit road right now because it seems we always pick up spots. If there aren’t any yellows and you are running 20th, it is hard to make that up.
"If I can get a good start and race in clean air, keep the fenders on it, and then the qualifying effort will pay off more with longer green flag runs."
Track position will be critical tomorrow with the changes to the track. Many crew chiefs believe that by replacing the gravel pits with asphalt it will eliminate the timely cautions, where in the past, track workers had to extricate cars from the kitty litter.
Todd Berrier, crew chief for Jeff Burton, believes with a 31- to 33-lap fuel window the team could possibly run the 90-lap race with two pit stops "if there are no flat tires." With the No. 31 CAT Chevrolet fifth in the point standings, Berrier says the team "can afford to gamble" to a degree.
"We can take chances, but if you try doing something smarter than the way you’ve been doing things in the past, it could cost you," Berrier said. "We’ll go back and look at the previous caution history but the changes to the track will change the complexion of the race. So at this point that history is just history."
Along with setting strategies, avoiding other competitors miscues will be imperative to a strong points day for drivers. For Clint Bowyer, who is currently 12th in the point standings, knows it’s best to pick his battles.
"At the end of the day, if you get knocked off the race track, sometimes you don’t have any blame in it, but a lot of times you can look at yourself and say, ‘You know, probably should have let that one go’," Bowyer said. "You have to be smart about your surroundings. A little bit of defensive goes a long way on a road course.
"If you are holding somebody up for four or five laps and you get wrecked, are you going to blame that guy for wrecking you or are you going to blame yourself for not getting the hell out of the way? At the end of the day, that is what it comes down to."
While Bowyer is confident he can gain on Martin at the upcoming short tracks, the veteran’s experience at the Glen could be daunting. Martin has three wins and an average finish of 7.8 in 20 starts on the road course. Plus, Martin narrowed his Chase deficit to just 34 points last week at Pocono. Although Bowyer has made gains over his last four starts with a career-high ninth in 2009, he’ll start 34th on Sunday — 10 positions behind Martin.
"I am trying to beat Mark Martin out of 12th place right now," Bowyer said. "I have to get up on the wheel and make things happen and get a good finish. If you are worried about somebody else’s fiasco and getting tangled up in that, you are not worried about what you need to be doing, which is finding speed and a good finish at the end of the day.
"We’ve got to be able to get every position possible. I think if we get out of here with a top-10 finish, that is going to set us up good for these last four races after this before the cut-off. We have some good race tracks for us. Bristol is one of my good ones. Richmond is another one of my best race tracks. If we can get out of here, I’m pretty excited about the last four."
Compared to the Chase hopefuls, Jamie McMurray is in an enviable position. McMurray, who is having a career season with victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, can just stay the course. Currently, McMurray is 17th in the point standings, 172 points outside of the Chase. All he’s worried about on Sunday is adding a trophy to his case.
"I don’t really care about having a solid points day," McMurray said. "It just is what it is. I think for us it’s about just having the right pit strategy. I don’t think you’re going to see people put tires on late in the race and make much ground up. It’s going to be about having good fuel mileage, which we felt like we did in practice, in the first practice and then just having that track position.
"I think if you can be in the first four or six, you will be in good shape in turn one, through the esses and all that. It seems like when you’re back, 10th or 12th, is where all the stuff happens. Starting up front will be important and I think that Bono (crew chief Kevin Manion) does as good of a job as any crew chief at having a plan and sticking to that plan."
TO STAY OR NOT TO STAY
Paul Menard insisted on Saturday that he does not have a contract signed for next year — yet.
"Everyone thinks we have a done deal," Menard said of recent reports that he will drive for Richard Childress Racing next season. "We’ve talked about it, for sure, but we don’t have a deal. There’s a decision to be made at some point."
Menard is in his second season piloting the No. 98 Ford. He is 23rd in the point standings and currently 510 points ahead of his position from last season. Ideally, Menard says his goal is to finish inside the top 20 for 2010.
"We had bigger hopes than that," Menard said. "But we got in a rut, kind of, in May and lost a lot of points. But we’re getting that back here slowly but surely."
So, what is Menard hoping to achieve with his next move?
"That’s part of the decision-making process we’re going through right now," Menard said.
Carl Edwards’ pole-winning run is the first time he’s landed the top qualifying spot in 69 races. His last pole was earned at Bristol in August 2008.
AJ Allmendinger’s fourth-place qualifying is a career-best at the Glen. It’s Allmendinger’s best qualifying effort since winning the pole at Phoenix.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing secured the second and third starting positions for Sunday. For Jamie McMurray, whose average starting position at the Glen was 19.9 entering the weekend, second in quals is a significant improvement. Montoya, third, also topped his average Glen start of 17.6.
When a cell phone went off during Marcos Ambrose’s press conference following his third straight Nationwide Series win at the Glen, he exclaimed, "I think that’s Kyle Busch asking for our set-up."