There’s nothing wrong with a little teamwork
I know there are a lot of questions following John Force’s supposedly slow reaction time that got his teammate into the NHRA’s version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but to be honest, I have no problem with that.
This weekend at Richmond for instance, if there is anything that David Ragan or Matt Kenseth can do to help Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth or Greg Biffle solidify their spots in the Chase, you know what, they are going to do it. In that same vein, if Scott Speed can do anything to help Brian Vickers make it into the Chase, well, it’s going to happen.
Now just so we are clear, I would never condone wrecking somebody to help their teammate, and I don’t see any team crossing that line. But If Denny Hamlin can let teammate Kyle Busch lead a lap for the five bonus points, well that is more than appropriate.
Let’s face it, while NASCAR racing is a sport, for these owners it is a business. It’s a huge investment for them. They are faced with protecting their business, sponsors and team. Making this Chase is vitally important to these teams. If I were in their shoes, I would absolutely do the same thing. The big picture for these operations is to get one or as many of their cars in the Chase as they can.
Where I have a totally different opinion is, say, in Formula One, where a driver might have to let a teammate go by per orders from the owner to win a race. That I don’t agree with at all. But I have no problem if Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. help make sure the Mark Martin makes the Chase.
Chase-clinching scenarios at Richmond:
— Carl Edwards can clinch if he finishes 24th or better, leads a lap and finishes 25th, or leads the most laps and finishes 27th.
— Kasey Kahne can clinch if he finishes 21st or better, leads a lap and finishes 23rd, or leads the most laps and finishes 24th.
— Kurt Busch can clinch if he finishes 20th or better, leads a lap and finishes 22nd, or leads the most laps and finishes 24th.
— Juan Pablo Montoya can clinch if he finishes 18th or better, leads a lap and finishes 20th, or leads the most laps and finishes 21st.
— Ryan Newman can clinch if he finishes 16th or better, leads a lap and finishes 17th, or leads the most laps and finishes 19th.
— Mark Martin can clinch if he finishes 12th or better, leads a lap and finishes 14th, or leads the most laps and finishes 15th.
— Greg Biffle can clinch if he finishes 11th or better, leads a lap and finishes 13th, or leads the most laps and finishes 15th.
— Matt Kenseth can clinch if he finishes second and leads at least one lap.
— Courtesy of NASCAR
Let’s go back to my Denny Hamlin example for a second. Let’s hypothetically say Denny is leading the race and Kyle is running second. However, mathematically Kyle has to win the race to make the Chase. I would never expect Denny to give up the win to help his teammate. A win in the Sprint Cup series is too hard to come by these days and Denny has to take very good care of his sponsors just as much as Kyle has to take care of his. Additionally, that would be 10 more bonus points for Denny when he starts the Chase.
Don’t be so shocked race fans, this is nothing new.
Back in the day when the Riverside, Calif., race used to be the last race of the season, the leaders in the points would field a second car just for that race just in case they needed that car to fall out for the points. Richard Childress, for example, put Neil Bonnett in a second car in 1993 at Atlanta, which used to be the last race, as insurance for Dale Earnhardt who ended up winning the championship. This kind of thing has been going on forever. Sure it’s part of the sport, but more importantly, it’s part of the business.
My gut is telling me that Kenseth isn’t going to be strong enough Saturday night to finish far enough in front of Kyle Busch to get in this Chase. I think the No. 18 will replace the No. 17. But then at the same time, look at Vickers and how well he has run the last couple months. Those guys pulled off a miraculous feat Sunday night at Atlanta. If that didn’t show championship caliber, nothing will. They changed an axle on pit road and kept their driver on the lead lap. I don’t know of very many operations that could ever pull that off.
Then, if that wasn’t enough to chew on, Kenseth has qualified for the Chase five straight years. He and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers who have been in each and every Chase since it was implemented. So he knows what you have to do to get there. That No. 17 car turned lemons into lemonade Sunday night. Let’s face it, they were struggling to even be in the top 35. But they ended with a top 15 finish and are still hanging on to the Chase spot by a thread.
All, which is a pretty big word used in this context, Kenseth and Biffle have to do is beat the Busch and Vickers Saturday night at Richmond. That’s it. Sure, easier said than done, but they literally don’t have to worry about anybody else.
Now unfortunately for the No. 18 and the No. 83, there is more to it than that for them. While they might finish in front of the No. 17 and the No. 16, it still might not be enough to get them into the Chase. While those two have to be smart and not beat themselves, still they have to go to Richmond, try to sit on the pole, lead laps and win the race. They also have to try to lead the most laps doing it because of the bonus points.
I think what you are going to see Saturday night is the bottom part of the current top 12, change position in the points throughout the race. You also simply can’t overlook the importance of qualifying Friday evening. You want to start up front plus you get a great pit selection. Saturday night’s going to be a great race and I, for one, can’t wait.