NASCAR Chase drivers will take chances early

I think Sunday proved the point that I have maintained for a number of weeks – that this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup has a different look and feel about it.

I believe it to be the product of the competition being so close, so stiff and so tight. I think the drivers know they are going to have to be aggressive from the drop of the green flag all the way to the end.

You definitely have to be aggressive when you have bad qualifying runs like you saw this past weekend out of Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. These drivers know you simply can’t coast to a championship. You have to lead laps, be aggressive on your pit calls and win races.

You can’t fault the chances Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton took on fuel mileage on Sunday. The same call to push the limit won the race. For some reason, Clint Bowyer was able to save just a little bit more fuel and come home the winner Sunday at Loudon while Stewart and Burton ran out of gas. I just think we are going to see this kind of intensity, especially the first part of this Chase.

I just believe you can’t be conservative this early in the 2010 Chase.

Sunday you saw guys with fresh tires try and pass a bunch of cars when they were all bunched up. You saw guys go three wide. That’s the mindset right now, because these guys know how hard the competition is. Let’s face it, we have four teams that are already more than 100 points out. Two of those four, Tony and Jeff Burton, I still feel good about because they were so strong but ran out of gas.

The other two, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, well I just have my doubts. I just don’t know if those guys are going to be players. The No. 17 hasn’t been much of a player all year long. He has been fortunate to be consistent, finish all the laps and make his way back into this year’s Chase.

Unfortunately I just don’t see that team being a championship contender. Now Biffle had somewhat of a hot streak going in late July and August, but now he and his team, too, seem to have fallen by the wayside. To me, the measuring stick for those three Roush Fenway cars will come this weekend at Dover International Speedway. Those three have always enjoyed strong races at Dover.

Whatever Bruton Smith needed to get worked out to keep both races in 2011 in Loudon, I for one am glad he did. For a track that has little to no banking and the way that track is designed, it clearly features some of the best side-by-side racing we have. You also saw a great crowd in the stands Sunday.

The thing that impressed me the most this past weekend was how great a race it was for the non-Chase guys. Just look at qualifying where you had six of the top 10 qualifiers being non-Chase teams. Sunday saw two of the top-five finishers and half of the top-10 finishers made up of non-Chase cars.

Let’s face it, the non-Chase guys are going to race their guts out to steal the thunder from the Chase crowd. It will not surprise me in the least to see non-Chase guys win some of these remaining nine races. The one that comes to mind is Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 car that had another great race Sunday and finished third.

If not for a speeding penalty, we could very easily be talking about Jamie winning last Sunday and not Clint Bowyer. I also look for Jamie to be tough this weekend at Dover. He always runs strong there.

I see so many agendas with these guys outside the top 12. You have guys like Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., for example, trying to win a race.You have guys trying to win more races like Jamie, Juan Pablo Montoya and David Reutimann. You have teams, like the No. 5 of Mark Martin, that are also trying to sort out their issues and trying to get some positive momentum going as we head toward 2011.

You also have guys like Sam Hornish Jr., who had a great 10th-place finish Sunday, literally racing for a job. He’s trying to prove to potential sponsors and team owners that he deserves to stay in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.