Contenders try to treat Richmond like any old race
Austin Konetski sees it as business as usual.
Certainly, his Roush Fenway Racing team and Matt Kenseth head into Saturday night’s Chevy Rock and Roll 400 on the bubble to make NASCAR’s Chase For The Sprint Cup. But the team members have talked things through and remain committed to doing things the same way as usual.
Across the sport, teams are having similar conversations. Eleven drivers are fighting for eight Chase spots entering Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway. Those in the fifth through 15th positions are still mathematically eligible to make the field — and those fifth through 14th are separated by just 122 points. That’s a mere parts failure or a significant crash from falling out of position.
It is almost inconceivable that all of these drivers will enjoy a clean, problem-free race on the .75-mile oval. It is almost certain that someone in the group will have a major problem.
For weeks, most of the drivers and teams in this group have been in bubble positions. Roush Fenway’s Carl Edwards and Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch have slipped in recent races and find themselves in the position of not being locked in entering the final pre-Chase race. And while they seem relatively safe at this point — Edwards is fifth and 105 points ahead of 13th position, Richard Petty Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne won at Atlanta to move to 96 ahead, and Busch is seventh and 95 ahead of 13th — they will still race with the knowledge that something can go wrong — and quickly.
Konestki, who works as a mechanic with Kenseth’s team, says that drivers and crews simply can’t let that enter their thoughts at this point.
“Honestly, we put 110 percent into every weekend, so I know there’s circumstances, I know our season has gone so far somewhat dictated by how we finish on Saturday night, but honestly, we really don’t treat any weekend any different,” he says. “We prepare the cars the best we can … The guys that go over the wall, it’s not like they don’t give 100 percent either. I think you just do your job like you normally do and make sure you do everything correct and hope that with a little bit of luck you get the results you want to.”
Everyone seems to be attempting to take that approach, just keeping business as usual. It’s easy to say but must be so much harder to do. Obviously, the Chase drivers gain their positions over the course of 26 races. But some that are on the bubble can find a race they’d like to have back and that they can point to as the one that caused the problem. And all are trying not to overthink Saturday night.”
The main difference will be that teams are keeping a closer eye on the men surrounding them who are also in the position to battle for a Chase spot.
Brian Vickers, who has steadily climbed into contention in recent weeks and now sits just 20 points outside the Chase field in 13th, says that he’s trying to just continue with business as usual this week.
“I try to live as normal of a life as possible,” he says. “I find that over the years, just doing this for a long time, if you get caught up too much emotionally and mentally throughout the week, even on the weekend, as to the challenge ahead, you can mentally drain yourself. You can really wear your body and your mind down just overthinking a situation.
“I think that really applies to anything in life, but especially racing. I try to focus on the task at hand during the week, whether it’s other work-related stuff or racing-related stuff or just personal downtime. Try not to let it eat at me, I guess you could say. It’s not easy.”
Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Steve Addington is taking a similar approach as his outfit tries to get Kyle Busch into the field.
His team has done all that it could. Not only are they trying to take preparation for this weekend’s race in stride, Addington seems to be going a step further.
Busch has excelled at Richmond. He brings an average finish of 6.1, best among those attempting to make the Chase field, and won there in May. Addington, though, doesn’t seem to want to think about even those top stats but rather to keep his team focused on preparing for the race just like any other.
“We know we’ve got to go there and perform,” he says. “I know we’re going to go to Richmond prepared.”
He knows what needs to happen — and that to make it happen, he and his team need to treat this race as if it were any other.
“To go win,” Addington says of what the team needs. “We’ve got to go there and win and let the chips fall where they may. We’ve been working hard; nothing we can do now. We can’t control what everybody else does. We can only control what we do. We need to go to Richmond and win the race.”
Rea White is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published weekly, 46 weeks per year. Visit www.scenedaily.com for more information.