Tension Mounts as Chase Closes

Jul 21 2011 - 2:56pm

As the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup rapidly approaches, the pucker factor at teams not assured a spot in the final 12 is rising exponentially.

How do I know? Two crew chiefs have been replaced this past two weeks, and the intra-team pressure is so high that Goodyear engineers have officially placed a psi limit on it. There’s no inner liner, either; what you do is what you get, and they know it.

Brian Pattie got the heave-ho Tuesday afternoon at the No. 42. Greg Erwin was bus-chucked the week before at the No. 16. He’s wound up at the No. 43 to fuel AJ Allmendinger’s Chase hopes.

There will be more, if not in the next couple of weeks then as soon as the Chase field is known. This is akin to baseball teams shedding payroll once they are mathematically eliminated from the pennant race.

Why is this happening this way? Well, for one reason, it’s all about winning now. I don’t mean stringing victories together. I mean winning one race. Used to be, you’d want consistency. Now, you want a big trophy and a top-20 spot in the points. The top-20 doesn’t do much good without the victory, because unless you’re in the top 10, it’s based on victories.

Is this good or bad? Don’t know yet, but I imagine it will be good in one way and bad in another.

It’s good because it means more teams are putting more emphasis on winning races. Gotta have the bling to chase the ring, you know. It’s bad in that once the Chase gets here, it’ll be all about consistency again.

The way you look at it is, it’s like trying to advance out of the B Main at your local short track. You have to finish in the top two to advance, and then you have to retool, put tires on and go like crazy to win the A Main…with not a lot of time to prepare.

David Ragan is currently 11th in the Chase revised standings. Clint Bowyer, unless he wins, would be out. Get used to this kind of calculation. You’re going to hear it a lot in the coming seven races.

In other news, will the last major sponsor left please turn out the lights? Crown Royal is leaving the No. 17 of Matt Kenseth, Aflac is in a renewal year and Carl Edwards is on the market.

It gets interesting here, because Edwards has been linked to the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing, sponsored by The Home Depot. You know, the same company that has “lost” the last five titles to rival Lowe’s.

If that happens, then Roush Fenway will be out two major sponsors for its four-car team, and will have lost its most marketable star.

Times are about to get real for the bigger teams, as companies lose faith in the marketing shot NASCAR is giving them. No fault of NASCAR’s, but the economy is dictating the exodus of sponsors from the bigger teams. DuPont reduced its commitment to Jeff Gordon last year, remember.

We’ll figure it all out, trust me. Stay tuned to the blog on www.onmc.com, and on Facebook and Twitter!