With so much at stake, things could get ugly


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Ryan Newman fears road rage might play a
decisive role in who makes the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

He might be right.

With 10 drivers vying for the final four spots in the race for
the Nextel Cup title, Newman expects desperate measures Saturday
night at Richmond International Raceway.

"You'd like to expect clean racing, but I know [this race] last
year it wasn't clean racing," Newman said. "There were a couple
drivers who intentionally tried to do some things to make their way
into the Chase, and you never know what's going to happen.

"It's a very high-pressure situation, but you expect people to
have a lot of respect and race people like they always did. Whether
that happens or not is just a situation of time will tell."

Six drivers have their spot in the Chase locked up, and Jeremy
Mayfield only needs to finish 39th or better to make it. The rest
of the spots in the 10-man Chase are up for grabs, and the drivers
from eighth place all the way back to 16th can mathematically make
it in.

Carl Edwards is in eighth place and followed by Matt Kenseth and
Jamie McMurray, who has just a one-point hold over Newman for the
10th and final position. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon is
in 12th. Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick and Joe
Nemechek are all mathematically eligible.

Emotions were all over the map during race preparations Friday,
but the bulk of the contenders wanted only to worry about
themselves. That's the strategy Mayfield took last year, when he
broke a four-year winless streak by taking the checkered flag to
secure his spot in the Chase.

But getting to the front could be a challenge.

"I don't think this is going to be a clean race at all,"
Sadler said. "I think there is going to be very aggressive driving
because every point counts. I think you are not going to see much
give and take between guys on the bubble.

"Guys are going to have to race their guts out to pass."

Gordon, who is in one of the most pressure-packed situations of
his career, admitted he will be a demon on Saturday night when the
situation calls for it. Of all the bubble drivers, Gordon has the
most at stake because he's the most recognizable driver in NASCAR
and many believe the playoff-style title hunt will be a dud if he's
not involved.

"If somebody tells me, 'You have to pass that car right there,'
I guarantee you I'm going to step up the aggressiveness to a whole
other level and that may mean beating and banging," Gordon said. "But until it calls for that moment, I'm not expecting to go out
there and just beat and bang for no reason."

So how does a driver stay out of a trouble with so much on the
line? "You just have to be aware of who you are around. You know the
guys who are going to take chances, so you stay away from them,"
McMurray said. "There a lot of people who maybe have one coming,
and this could be the night [they get it.]"

NASCAR tends to keep a watchful eye on dirty driving and has a
history of handing down swift punishments. Dale Jarrett was
immediately penalized two laps after intentionally wrecked Newman
two weeks ago.

That accident crippled Jarrett's bid to make the Chase and cost
Newman several valuable points at the same time.

Newman was dealt another setback during Friday's practice
session when he wrecked his primary car and had to go to his backup
Dodge. Still, he said he hasn't spent too much time worrying about
his fate.

Newman has an engineering degree from Purdue, and approaches
everything in the most practical matter he can. So he won't lose
any sleep wondering how the race will play out.

"I know there is pressure, but I don't feel it," he said. "I
haven't had any migraines, it's been life as usual. I'm a numbers
guy, but it's all about performance. When performance happens, the
numbers fall in place the way you want them to."

McMurray learned the hard way that staying relaxed is the best approach.

He was a nervous wreck last year when he came into the race 11th
in the standings. He ended up missing the Chase by just 15 points.

He's much more at ease this time, even though his grip on the
final qualifying position is just one point.

"It's a lot better to be on the inside, it's something mentally
that makes you feel a lot better," McMurray said. "So this is
nothing like it was last year for me. I was tore up, I didn't want
to eat.

"But this week is a lot better. I even played golf this week."

Gordon said he won't get stressed out until the race begins.

"To me, it's going to come down to driving our hearts out,
doing everything we can and then trying to get ourselves in the
best position," Gordon said.