Chicagoland: Round 18 preview

Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup - The Countdown: 9 Races to Go DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 6, 2004) – The winds blowing this week aren’t cooling the lakefront, the Loop, or the Second City’s two major-league outfields. They’re sweeping the...

Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup - The Countdown: 9 Races to Go

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 6, 2004) – The winds blowing this week aren’t cooling the lakefront, the Loop, or the Second City’s two major-league outfields. They’re sweeping the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series into town, and with it, the second half of the 2004 season.

This week’s Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway marks the halfway point of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule; officially, Race No. 18 of 36. Realistically, it means nine races to go as teams jostle to position themselves for the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup,” the new format to determine the series champion.

After 26 races, the Top 10 in points and anyone else within 400 points of the standings’ leader will be involved in the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.” The cutoff point is race No. 26 at Richmond on Sept. 11, and a July weekend in Chicago could produce either elation, or a bad case of Windy City blues.

“I guess you could say that Richmond is 'D-Day' for all of us,” said Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who sits 16th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. “You either get it done or you don't – you're either in it or you're not – and I think we can make up that difference between now and then. We've won a ton of races at the tracks we have coming up and look to add to our success on those tracks between now and then.”

So does the leader of the pack, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) who sits atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. He thinks the now-4-year-old Chicagoland track is ready to host some championship-caliber racing.

“There are tough winters and warm summers there that have aged the track faster than you would see in other places,” Johnson said. “That will help roughen the track up and the asphalt wear out a little quicker and change the surface a little bit. That’s what we need.”

Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&Ms Ford) needs a rebound. He fell from fifth to eighth in the Top 10 after a poor finish at Daytona International Speedway last week, and says the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup” has altered traditional mid-season strategies.

“You have to race smart and you have to be aware of who is around you,” Sadler said, citing the ninth-place Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), the seventh-place Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie Ford) and the sixth-place Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) as his targets. “It seems like the same guys are up there week in and week out and last weekend showed what happens when you miss it a little like we did.”

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler