Next two races will shake up Chase

BY Larry McReynolds • October 19, 2011

Our next two races are unique. We go to our biggest track — Talladega Superspeedway — then to our smallest track — Martinsville Speedway. Naturally, at Talladega we have the restrictor plates while at Martinsville it’s about beating and banging your way to the front.

I do believe these next two races will shake up the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup points even further. When we head to our final three races of the season, at Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, I believe the picture will be crystal clear of who the remaining players are for the championship.

It doesn’t matter if you are championship leader Carl Edwards, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is far back, or even Denny Hamlin, who is last in the Chase points, the mentality for everyone is, “I just want to get through this race. Sure, I want to get a great finish and maybe even win the race, but the bigger thing I want is not to get caught up in a wreck. I want to get through this weekend and then head to Martinsville next week."

Despite the recent rule changes that include increasing the size of the restrictor plate, and therefore allowing seven to 10 more horsepower, I think we will see this weekend’s Talladega Superspeedway race play out the same way we’ve seen the last handful of times there. I don’t think we will see the big wrecks Sunday as we have in years past. I think you are going to see a lot, and I mean a lot, of lead changes. In fact, the track has even offered a bonus if we see 100 lead changes Sunday.

I am curious to watch both Penske Racing cars this weekend. They are sitting in sixth and seventh place in the points. Both Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch were complaining all weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway about their engines being down on power. Now, after Talladega comes Martinsville, but I am willing to bet there will be a lot of conversations and work done from the guys in the motor room to address both drivers' concerns before they get to Texas. That will be the place of the next big test of power.

I know it was addressed on the broadcast that the motor room folks may have gone conservative at Charlotte with the points being tight. The bottom line, however, is with the competition being as tight as it is, you can’t give up anything. You simply can’t give up horsepower at this stage of the game if you want to win this championship.

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