Atlanta Will Set the Table for the Chase HAMPTON, Ga. (Aug. 17, 2009) -- With the Chase for the Sprint Cup quickly approaching, drivers will admit to several agendas for the upcoming Pep Boys Auto 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor ...
Atlanta Will Set the Table for the Chase
HAMPTON, Ga. (Aug. 17, 2009) -- With the Chase for the Sprint Cup quickly approaching, drivers will admit to several agendas for the upcoming Pep Boys Auto 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend.
Some say they will use it as a tune-up for the upcoming playoffs.
Some say they will take a more conservative route to protect their spot in the 12-driver playoffs.
And some say they some will go for broke.
As the second-to-last race before the Chase starts, as many as 10 drivers will be fighting to make the final championship cut. The gap between seventh place and 16th place has been close for months. Drivers seem to move in and out of the top 12 every week, and Atlanta affords a real opportunity for a driver to cement his chances with a victory.
And those who play it safe may be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.
Nobody knows the pressure of making the Chase more than Kasey Kahne. He's spent much of the last six years living on the edge, one week safely inside the cutline for the playoffs, the next week on the outside.
Kahne, who won at Atlanta in 2006, currently sits safely in the Chase. He's also been on both sides of the cutline.
"It's business as usual for me," he said. "It's similar for me every year. The season winds down to the Chase and we're always on the border line; it's just the way it is. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it I can tell you that. I'll do the best that I can on Sunday, and if we run out of gas, we run out of gas. If we get in a wreck, we get in a wreck. At the end of the day I know that I did everything that I possibly can, hopefully it's good enough."
The final cut for the Chase probably won't be determined until the Richmond International Raceway the week after, but the stage will be set at Atlanta. In 2006 Kahne raced his way into the Chase at Richmond. Last year a 19th-place finish at Richmond kept him out of the playoffs.
He hopes it doesn't come down to the last lap at Richmond this year, and winning the Pep Boys Auto 500 would take a lot of pressure off next week's race.
"The Chase is what everybody shoots for," Kahne said. "Winning races can make a season, but you really need to work on both. To make the Chase, we're going to have to win some races to get there. I'm just going to race my race and run as hard as I can, every lap, for the rest of the season."
The pressure is tough on everyone, since a flat tire, loose lug nut, accident or engine failure could be the difference in racing for a championship. Greg Biffle is another driver at the make-or-break line. He can't think of a better time to pick up his first Sprint Cup win at Atlanta. He won the Nationwide Series race at Atlanta in 2003, and he's scheduled to compete in Saturday night's Degree V12 300 to get a jump on Sunday night's main event.
"We've got to work as hard as we can and we've got to be careful," Biffle said. "We've got to be cautious and get those points, whether it's a fifth, seventh or a third. We try as hard as we can. We try and win every one of them, but the fact of the matter is we can't take chances. We've got to get good finishes and take care of our equipment."
The race to make the Chase has proven to be every bit as entertaining as the Chase itself since there are so many drivers -- and so little time remaining -- in the mix to make the 12-driver lineup.
Atlanta's competitiveness only makes the desperate charge even better. The only strategy that seems to work here is going hard and racing to win. And for those secure in their Chase position, the Chase bonus points awarded for a win will enhance the pressure to race to Victory Lane.
With speeds topping 200 mph on the straightaways and cars rim-riding the outside wall in the turns, the margin for error is razor-thin. It's exactly the way drivers like it most.
"I think everybody here and everybody from eighth to 15th in the points knows that they can't afford any big mistakes," Juan Pablo Montoya said. "The problem is that there are 16 to 20 cars that are Chase teams and are capable of making the Chase. In a way I'm glad we're one of them."
And one of many with the same strategy to win at Atlanta and carry momentum into the Chase.