News & Media


Routines won't change in race to make Chase

July 09, 2012, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com

Tony Stewart's third victory should secure a spot in the Chase, even if he drops out of the top 10 in the standings. (Autostock)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Johnson, Gordon, Stewart in different positions but agree they'll stay the course

With eight races remaining until the cut off for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, three of NASCAR's most decorated drivers are in three different positions. One feels secure with his place in the Chase; one is on the bubble but has victories in his corner; and one has to work vehemently to either make the top 10 in points or earn one of the two wild cards based on number of victories. Regardless of their situation, all agree the way they approach a race weekend will not change.

"Usually [we] don't get too far away from our normal routine," said five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who is a comfortable fourth in the points standings with two victories. "At the end, if we are near a fuel window, we may gamble and go for it. It may lead us to a two-tire stop instead of four at the end of a race. You can gamble some, but you don't want to make stupid, foolish, careless decisions that prevent the team from having a good finish.

"Oddly enough, the momentum of a top-five streak or a top-three streak really does a lot of good for a race team. You don't want to lose that trying to throw some crazy Hail Mary."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

"Oddly enough, the momentum of a top-five streak or a top-three streak really does a lot of good for a race team. You don't want to lose that trying to throw some crazy Hail Mary."

Settling for a top-five or a top-three isn't going to get Johnson's teammate, Jeff Gordon, into the Chase. At 17th in points, 87 behind 10th, it will be next to impossible for Gordon to earn an automatic bid into the Chase. That means Gordon has to rely on victories and one of the two wild-card positions.

But surprisingly, Gordon doesn't approach the upcoming LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway any differently.

"We will go to Loudon with the best setup that we feel like we need to go there and compete for a win," Gordon said. "When we come out of there, then we are going to look at where we ended up, how we ran, what the setup did for us and where it needs to be tweaked. If we have to completely reinvent it, then we will."

Defending Cup champion Tony Stewart earned his third victory of the season at Daytona, which all but locks him into a wild-card position. He wants to be in the top 10 to collect the bonus points for those victories. He's fifth in points, 52 ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards, after moving up four spots following his win.

"Our approach every week for 14 years in my career now has been to take it one week at a time," Stewart said.

But with New Hampshire as one of the 10 tracks in the Chase, is this the time to try some new things to perhaps learn something and find success when it matters most?

"I don't think we're that comfortable that we can do that, so we'll go race it just like we do any other race," said Stewart, a three-time Cup champion. "We've never taken a race weekend and said 'All right, we're in good enough shape, we're just going to throw this weekend away and try different things and do that. We would never have been in a position where we've been flexible enough to do that."

For four-time Cup champion Gordon, he's not worried about what tracks are in the Chase, he's worried about making it. And while he doesn't want to alter his normal routine, he will if needed.

"I can promise you one thing right now -- we are not afraid," Gordon said. "We are not afraid to be trying things; we are not afraid to put it out there and take some risks. Each race that goes by without a win, the more risk that we are willing to take, and that, to me, is as much in the setup as it is for the strategy calls."