Fast start at Loudon would do wonders for Chase contenders
The Chase for the Nextel Cup isn't about winning. It's about being consistent, avoiding mistakes and finishing races -- hopefully in the top 10, writes Terry Blount.
- Winning isn't everything, not when you're trying to win the Nextel Cup.Consider this little tidbit: The driver who won the most races in the Chase never has won the championship.When the 10-race playoff begins Sunday at New Hampshire, the No. 1 goal for the 12 contenders isn't to win the race; the goal is to finish the race, hopefully in the top 10.NASCAR took a step in the right direction this season by adding emphasis to winning races in the events before the Chase began. Drivers were seeded by wins, with each victory worth 10 bonus points.The drivers who knew they were in the Chase spent the past month going all out to win races. It was fun to watch.But it's back to conservative mode now. Time to play it safe. The way to win the Chase is to avoid mistakes and bad finishes."Those of us locked in were not racing for a consistent top-5 or top-10," said Jeff Gordon, who starts the Chase in second place, 20 points behind teammate Jimmie Johnson. "It was all about getting those bonus points for victories. However, now it's time to race consistently."Getting off to a good start this weekend helps, but Johnson proved last year that it isn't a requirement.Johnson finished 39th on the 1-mile New Hampshire oval last year but overcame it to win the Chase. It wasn't easy. He had a victory and four second-place finishes in the next six races."The pressure and intensity really ramps up in the final 10," Johnson said. "Everything you've done was to get in this position. Now the pressure really, really magnifies." The first two Chase champs got a big momentum boost off the New Hampshire race. Tony Stewart finished second at Loudon in 2005. Kurt Busch won the Chase opener in 2004. "The first few events of the Chase are very important," Busch said. "To get off to a good start is key. You're not digging out of a hole, so to speak. "It was a hard-fought battle just to get in. But now, it's almost like we pressed the reset button. Now we have 10 weeks to charge."Drivers know they get one mulligan in the playoff. You can afford one horrible outing if you race well in the other nine events.Busch finished 42nd at Atlanta in the seventh of 10 playoff races in 2004 but never fell out of the top spot. Stewart's worst finish in 2005 was 25th at Charlotte, but he posted top-10s in four of the last five events.It's all about consistency if you want to win the title. Stewart didn't win a race in the Chase when he took the Cup home two years ago.
Being the top seed is certainly an advantage. I'm not sure how much, but I'm hoping it works in the right direction and helps us win another championship.
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