LOUDON, NH - The opening round of the Chase for the Championship gets underway this weekend when the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series tour heads to the northeast for the Sylvania 300 on Sunday, September 16 at New Hampshire International Raceway. Let the...
LOUDON, NH - The opening round of the Chase for the Championship gets underway this weekend when the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series tour heads to the northeast for the Sylvania 300 on Sunday, September 16 at New Hampshire International Raceway. Let the games begin!
On top of his game is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, who has amassed six victories thus far this season, more than any other driver. As the top seed with an additional 10 bonus points per win awarded by NASCAR, he starts with 5060 points - more than the 11 other Chase contenders. The Loudon track suits Johnson's style as he swept both races there in 2003. He'll be looking for his third consecutive win this weekend.
"If you get off to a fast start in the Chase, you start protecting and if you get off to a slow start, you start charging," said Johnson, winner of the past two rounds in Richmond and California. "I don't think getting the end result is going to get any easier. But I think my mental strength is much greater than what it was last year. I feel a lot more confidant and I'm sure the team does, too, and more relaxed. It's not going to make our job any easier, but we are coming in without as much pressure on ourselves.
"Being the top seed is certainly an advantage. We've got a 20-point margin over Jeff Gordon and it goes on down from there. I'm not sure how helpful that will be. I'm excited about the cars we're bringing to the race tracks. The tracks coming up on the schedule are great tracks for me. I know they are strong tracks for a lot of guys that will be fighting for the championship. I really don't have a clear-cut strategy. It's more about getting in my own head and getting in my own world and putting together the best 10 races that I can and that my team can."
Back in the running for the title this year, Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Impala SS, has two wins at the New Hampshire track (spring of '00 and '05). "As much as we all want to win races, you have to weigh everything you do, risk versus reward," said Stewart, who has earned three victories so far this year. "After missing it last year, obviously as a whole organization, we're excited to be back in. We never in our wildest dreams thought we would have missed last year but just shows that you've got to be on top of your game here, and, you know, if you have a couple of bad races, it can really set you behind. So, we're happy to be back in the Chase, obviously."
Last year's Sylvania 300 winner, Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Impala SS, is ready to defend that title.
"Last year, we got off to a great start," said Harvick, winner of the Daytona 500 and the All-Star races this year. "We won at Richmond and then we won at Loudon and then had three bad weeks and found ourselves racing for third through fifth when we got to Homestead. So that's what you've got to avoid. You've got to have 10 solid weeks. We're capable of that. It's just a matter of it all going that way. We've just got to perform well enough 10 weeks in a row."
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Impala SS, comes back to Loudon with the momentum of winning the first '07 NHIS race at the New Hampshire Magic Mile. He'll start the Chase in sixth place in the standings. "I'm looking forward to New Hampshire," said Hamlin. "It's where we won in the spring. It's typically, by the stats, probably my best race track. So I'm excited about going there. We're taking the same race car we won with. So I feel very confident in what we have. With a few minor adjustments, we should be pretty tough there."
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 AT&T Impala SS, has visited victory lane at NHIS more times than any other driver on the circuit. "We need to step it up a bit," he explained. "This is a really strong team and I am very proud of everyone and the job they have done to this point. From the way we have been running I think we need to improve a little bit. We are prepared.
"There are a lot of good teams who didn't make it into The Chase so that makes me appreciate the fact we are in even more. Instead of going into The Chase and sputtering through it, I want to go in and be a force. You have to run well in The Chase in order to compete for the championship. You can't win the thing in the first few races but I believe you can lose it if you have a few bad runs right off the bat" Sitting on the outside, looking in is popular Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Impala SS who ranks 13th in the standings. "We led the most laps there (NHIS in July) and finished fourth, so we certainly have shown we can take the COT (car of tomorrow) to the front at Loudon.
"We're all frustrated and let down by not making the Chase, and we're coming to grips with the fact that we won't be going out with a title this year. But, we can wash that bad taste out of our mouths by running wide-open just like we have been and we're bound to grab a win or two in the last ten races. There's no way we can keep running up front and not have the breaks go our way at least once. It's bound to happen, but even if it doesn't, we're going to close out the year with integrity and our heads held high to the last lap."
-credit: gm racing