CHICAGO — For all the talk about NASCAR’s playoffs starting this weekend at
At some point in the 10-week Chase for the Sprint Cup, teams will have to bring intensity, top speed and flawless execution. This is not that point.
After all, 16 drivers in the 40-car lineup will be part of the playoff when the
They just need to avoid disaster.
“The first segment, you’ve got almost half the field in this,”
It’s an obvious strategy, right? Well, not if you ask one of Stewart’s own drivers.
“You aren’t just going to ramp it up as you get to the last round or Homestead,” he said. “Everybody is going to come with their best stuff this weekend. It’s a different level in order to win the championship. Taking the approach of cruising through the first round might work for those guys — I don’t know — but I don’t think that’s exactly where our team is going to sit.”
There’s no right answer yet, because it’s only the third attempt at this format. After the first year, the conventional wisdom was a 15th-place average finish in Round 1 would be good enough. But then
“I would have taken that before the Chase started and (thought) it would guarantee yourself into the next round,” McMurray said.
But you’d have to think that it would in most years. The only problem is there’s no way to prove it until more years of the Chase create the data.
“We kind of look at this round as, ‘Don’t make any mistakes,’ ” defending champion
If a team does excel right away, though, there are certainly benefits.
Sounds nice at a time of year when everyone else is feeling stressed, right?
But Hamlin conceded a Round 1 win wasn’t necessary and said it was important not to press. For example: The pit crew could afford a pit stop that was a half-second slower than it would need to be at Homestead, while a driver needs to have a good restart but not a great one, he said.
“Just do what you need to do to go out there and get a good, solid day if it’s not your day to win,” Hamlin said.
So why the difference of opinion between Harvick and the other drivers? Stewart said if a team has the speed like Harvick’s No. 4 car does, “they’re fast enough to set that standard.”
“I take a different approach,” Stewart said. “I take it like Talladega: I want to be there at the end. I’m not worried about leading laps and all that.”
That type of talk has given hope to underdogs like
“You really just need to be smooth throughout all of it and make sure you’re there after Dover,” Buescher said.
Harvick, though, sounded like he wasn’t convinced by the approach taken by other drivers.
“People talk about just cruising through the first round,” he said. “I got news for you — there’s no plan. You’re going to have to deal with something that’s going to be unexpected, and it’s at a different level than it is during the regular season.”
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck