How do Sprint Cup teams spend rare off-week? Depends on their position

Danica Patrick debriefs with crew chief Tony Gibson (right) in the Sprint Cup Series garage.

I’ve had a lot of race fans ask me this week what really goes on during an off-week for a NASCAR Sprint Cup team. Actually the answer depends on how your season is going.

Now sure, across the board everyone is going to get some downtime. They simply have to. We have a brutal run to Homestead coming up and folks are already getting burned to the ground.

If you are a team that is comfortably locked into the 2014 Chase, you have the luxury of giving everyone a little extra time off. Let them get away, sleep in their own beds, spend time away with their families and basically just decompress. Then next week, everyone comes back to the shop refreshed, reinvigorated and refocused on one single goal — winning the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

The rub comes for those teams that are right there on the edge of either making or missing the Chase. The reality is there are only seven races left before the 16-car field is set for the 2014 Chase. If you are right there on either side of that edge, well, it’s make or break time. These next seven races are the biggest seven races of your season. This is where the crew chief gets paid the big bucks to make those hard decisions of who gets time off and how much.

Teams in this situation have to try and fix the problems that have plagued them up to this point. Maybe it’s trying a new combination in your pit crew. Maybe it’s going testing to try and find more speed in your car. Sure, you have to find a way to give your team some time off, but if you aren’t one of those 16 teams in the Chase after the checkered flag falls at Richmond in September, you might find yourself with a lot more time off than you anticipated and a lot quicker than you anticipated.

I don’t envy any of these teams. This is the last weekend off of the entire 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Seventeen grueling weeks of racing are ahead. It’s the stretch run to the championship.

Like I mentioned, there are these next seven races that take us to the end of what we call the regular season, and that will set the Chase field. Then there are 10 more nerve-wracking weeks inside the Chase with only one team left standing when the checkered flag falls at Homestead on Nov. 16.