ThatsRacin

NASCAR Raceday: Chase racers already anticipating Talladega

No good can come from needing a big day at Talladega

By winning at Chicagoland Speedway last week, Brad Keselowski is already guaranteed to advance to the next three-race round of elimination under the new Chase format.

Keselowski acknowledged Friday that can make a race team pretty carefree.

“We’ve got two races (New Hampshire and Dover) to, I don’t want to say goof off, but with no consequences, and that’s enjoyable,” said Keselowski, who also won the pole Friday in New Hampshire.

“It’s like getting a free lottery ticket. If you lose it doesn’t matter and you have the potential to win something big.”

Now project that elimination dynamic to the next trio of races that will trim the Chase field: Kansas Speedway Oct. 5, Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 11 and Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 19. Jeff Gordon predicted Friday there will be huge pressure on Chase drivers to finish well at Kansas and Charlotte because Talladega races are so notorious for chain-reaction crashes.

“Nobody wants to go to Talladega needing a win or a top-five finish to move on because that place is so unpredictable and so wild and so crazy,” Gordon said. “It’s going to make for a very wild and crazy race. It’s going to be that no matter what, but you want to be that driver (where) it’s a calm race.

“The only way that’s going to happen is if you’ve won the race before that.”

Notebook

Gordon, crew feeling good vibrations: Gordon has a win and two second-place finishes in the past five races. It’s clear he’s as happy with his race team as he has been in a very long time. What has changed?

“Just as (recently) as last year I can remember coming to the race track and trying to reinvent the wheel. And you can’t do that at the race track,” Gordon said. “You have to show up (tuned in at the track) and you have to be close and then you have to communicate and work as a team and believe in one another.”

Too hot, too cold: Pole winner Keselowski found the temperatures at the first Saturday Sprint Cup practice less than ideal. It had nothing to do with needing a hot cup of coffee.

“It’s really hard to get the tires up to temperature and get going,” Keselowski said. “Goodyear brings a great tire here that’s made to run in heat with all the brake heat and those things, so when the track is really cold like this, the first few laps are really dangerous.”

Rookie Lajoie scrapes wall: Corey Lajoie, the 22-year-old son of two-time Nationwide champion Randy Lajoie, will make his Sprint Cup debut in New Hampshire.

He scraped up the No. 77 Ford in the final prerace practice Saturday, making contact with the wall after being passed by Gordon. Lajoie has made two starts each in the Nationwide and Truck series.


Three things to watch

1 The difficulty passing at New Hampshire tends to inspire alternative strategies, such as fuel-mileage. However, if you’re in the Chase, can you afford a big gamble that could either win a race or run out of gas?

2 No driver has won back-to-back races at New Hampshire since Kurt Busch in 2004. But as fast as Keselowski was in practice and qualifying, the winner of the spring race here has a great shot again.

3 Drivers in jeopardy of being eliminated from the Chase after Dover will be somewhat conservative late-race here; it’s better in this situation to accept sixth place than to risk slipping to 25th.


Observations

• It’s an odd circumstance when a sport begins its playoff system while allowing the nonplayoff competitors to play on. This new Chase format, where each three-race set is a round of the playoffs, multiplies that dynamic. Some Chase drivers have incentive to play it safe this race while others must go for broke to stay in contention. And the non-Chase drivers have little to lose making risky moves to win an individual race. That’s a lot of different agendas in one field.



• Keselowski talked passionately Friday about how a second Sprint Cup title would create a different level of validation for his career. Fair enough. But it was also fair when a reporter asked who still needs proof Keselowski is a great driver. Athletes always need doubters for motivation, real or imagined.



• It was unseasonably chilly Friday in Loudon, which made for faster qualifying. Warmer weather is forecast for Sunday, but that comes with a chance of rain, which nobody needs on a race day.




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Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray

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