NASCAR teams face long stretch now

Obviously, everyone’s most important race is the next one coming up.

The first NASCAR race of the season is just as important as the seventh or 27th race. Now the teams are coming off an off week, which was to celebrate Easter, and are facing 12 consecutive weeks of racing.

If we look at who the players are right now, it actually is a little foggy still for the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. I still maintain that when we get to the end of these next 12 consecutive races, we’ll have a real clear picture of who the players are.

What’s unique about the race at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night is this is also the site of the last race to set the field for the 2011 Chase. Come September, when the checkered flag waves at Richmond, you need to be in the top 10 in points or be in the top 20 in points and be one of the two drivers with the most wins not already in the field. Those two guys get the two wild-card spots and join the top 10 to set the 2011 Chase field of 12 cars.

So this is a very important weekend in that these teams will be gathering as much information as they can for their database. They can use that information when we return to Richmond in September.

Although the weather can be different this weekend from what it is for the race in September, all of the other conditions are basically the same. You are racing Saturday night under the lights.

Actually, taking Darlington Raceway out of the mix, because it hosts only one race a year, look at the remainder of the NASCAR on FOX schedule for 2011. You have races at Richmond, Dover International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway on our schedule. All these tracks, except Richmond, host Chase races come the end of the year.

So this next month of racing is pretty important for a lot of reasons.

Now, this past off weekend has been invaluable to teams in a number of ways. If you are a team that is struggling, like the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin and the No. 14 of Tony Stewart, for instance, it gives you a chance to step back and evaluate. What are we missing? What have we not hit on?

For all the teams across the board, knowing you have 12 consecutive race weekends coming up, you also used this time to freshen your guys up.

Guys got some days off to spend time with their family. That does a lot to re-energize a team and helps everyone get ready to focus on this next three months of racing.