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Doing well at New Hampshire is helpful but not necessary for Chasers

By admin | September 19, 2009

By Richard Allen

It would seem pretty logical to say that in a ten race playoff format that getting off to a good start in the first of those races is important. For the most part, that has been true for the eventual NASCAR champions since 2004. However, history has shown that on at least one occasion it was not absolutely necessary to start out the Chase on a hot streak.

In 2004, eventual champion Kurt Busch began his playoff run with a victory at NHMS. No doubt, there are twelve drivers in the field for the 2009 Sylvania 300 who would like to do just that.

Busch is the only driver to have won this race on his way to a championship.

By the way, this race has never been won by a non-Chaser since the inception of the Chase for the Championship in 2004. And, the worst Chase finish in the final standings by a winner of this race was a 6th place by Ryan Newman in 2005. So, while winning this race isn’t required in order to win the Chase, doing so seems to set the tone for a good final result.

In 2005, eventual title winner Tony Stewart ran second to Newman in the first Chase race at NHMS.

In the pre-race interviews for that race Stewart delivered a great one-liner that I will always remember. When asked by a television reporter if getting off to a good start in this race was important he said, “No, we even thought about taking this week off.”

In 2006, however, Jimmie Johnson proved that Stewart’s sarcastic statement may have actually had some truth in it. Johnson finished 39th in that race but went on to take the championship anyway. And by doing so, he proved that while a team may not want to take the week of this race off, they can get away with a poor finish and still recover.

Needless to say, of course, getting off to such a bad start puts tremendous pressure on a driver and his team for the next nine races.

In 2007, Johnson posted a much more solid 6th place finish on his way to his second consecutive title. And in 2008, he scored an even better 2nd place behind winner Greg Biffle in the process of collecting his third championship.

So, is scoring a top-5 or a top-10 finish important in New Hampshire? Well, history shows that it is a nice thing to do, but, at least on one occasion, it proved not necessary.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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