By admin | September 18, 2010
By Richard Allen
The Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the first race in the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup, so naturally, most of the attention by the media and everyone else is heaped upon those twelve drivers seeking the championship. One problem with that during Friday afternoonâ€™s qualifying session was that those outside the top-12 in the standings grabbed the spotlight away from their locked-in competitors.
Brad Keselowski led the charge by those who will not compete for a title when he secured the pole position for Sundayâ€™s race. It was the Michigan nativeâ€™s first Sprint Cup pole. In all, six of the top-10 and seven of the top-12 spots on the starting grid were taken by non-Chasers.
Of the Chase contenders, Clint Bowyer led the way by placing himself on the outside of the front row. Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards will join Bowyer in the top-10 at the start of the race.
Some of the championship seekers will find themselves starting dangerously deep in the field. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, the two drivers who acquired the most bonus points during the â€˜regular seasonâ€™ by winning the most races, will start 22nd and 25th respectively. Kevin Harvick, who compiled the most points during the seasonâ€™s first 26 races, will begin his day from the 27th starting spot while fellow Chaser Matt Kenseth will line up 33rd.
Aside from simply starting further back in the pack, there are a couple of significant pitfalls that could hurt the chances of the Chase drivers who have qualified in the middle or rear of the field.
First, there is always the danger of getting caught up in someone elseâ€™s mess. This happened in the 2004 Sylvania 300 when Chaser Greg Biffle found himself involved in a bumping match with non-Chaser Robby Gordon. Biffleâ€™s resulting spin collected fellow Chasers Tony Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield.
Also, since pit stall selection is determined by qualifying, several Chase teams will find themselves pitting in less than ideal spots on pit road. On a track known to cause difficulty in passing, track position is key and pit stall selection is crucial in deciding that track position.
NASCARâ€™s so called playoff is odd in that those not in the playoff compete right alongside those who are competing for the championship, unlike the NFL playoffs in which the teams not making the playoffs simply go home. On Friday at NHMS, the non-Chasers showed that they will very much play a role in determining who the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup winner will be.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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