RICHMOND, Va._ When the 12 man Chase for the Sprint Cup is set following Saturday night’s Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway, nearly every driver will have a teammate on his side in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
Richard Childress Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing all have the majority of their teams in the Chase and Stewart Haas Racing has a chance to put both of their cars in as well. Even if Ryan Newman fails to make the Chase, SHR is still a Hendrick affiliated team.
Racing against teammates in the Chase is nothing new and has advantages, but does not having a teammate put you at a disadvantage?
Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch does not think so.
Locked into the Chase, Busch will be the only Penske car and the only Dodge making a run for the championship. The 2004 Chase winner already has 20 bonus points on his side and has flown under the radar for much of the season. Looking forward to the Chase, Busch is hoping teammates Sam Hornish Jr., Brad Keselowski and even Nationwide Series driver Parker Kligerman can provide him with the slight advantage needed to better the other 11 drivers.
A couple of weeks ago, the Penske bunch headed to the Milwaukee Mile for a two-day test as the organization geared up to make a run at the title. While Keselowski may be focused on winning the Nationwide Series championship, Hornish is set on doing all he can to help the driver of the No. 2.
“I feel like we’re going to use it to our advantage as best we can,” Busch said of his teammates not being in the Chase. “I have Sam Hornish Jr. this weekend with the same exact set up in his race car and he’s out there gathering notes for us…That’s already in place where he’s going to have the same set up as us to start every weekend only to make it look like we’ve got two cars putting the same footprint down.”
“We generally don’t try to run too far apart from all of each other,” Hornish said. “Anytime we go testing together, Kurt and I generally like a lot of the same things. Sometimes it’s how everything gets put together though is what determines if it’s fast or not. I think with Kurt being in the Chase, I want to do everything we can do to help him out. We can use our practice time more wisely, help them out, be closer to what they are in set up and just come to the tracks better off prepared to be teammates and do all we can do to help them out. That’s kind of what we’re here for now.”
While Hornish and the Penske bunch are working hard to provide Busch with all the knowledge they can, the other drivers in the Chase do not have the same advantage. In order for one driver to win the title, they will not only have to beat the competition, but also their teammates to do so.
Working together all year long has helped put RCR in the position to give their three cars a chance at the championship, and Clint Bowyer does not feel like that will change dramatically over the next ten races. However, the driver fighting to lock up the final Chase spot understands how Penske Racing may have an advantage with two teammates outside the race for the championship.
“Make no mistake, whether you are in the Chase or not, you are still a teammate and you better be a teammate,” said Bowyer. “That is why they have multi-car teams. I would say that (Kurt Busch) having teammates that are not in the Chase might open the door for an opportunity to come up with that home run. Whereas, an organization that has all three cars in the Chase, you aren’t going to have a guy that can go out and try something that is completely out of the box that may be the big hitter for that night. That might even play in their favor a little bit someday.”
Much like Bowyer and the RCR organization, Carl Edwards knows the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization has put a great deal of effort into bringing the title back to Jack Roush. However, he also knows if it comes down to a battle amongst teammates, it is every team for themselves.
“If we are all performing very well, then it could get pretty tense toward the end,” Edwards said. “You might not share as much information if the guy you are racing for the championship is in the same shop as you. I think right up until that point it is advantageous to have guys that are in the Chase that are working just as hard for the same goals.
“I feel that we’ve kind of built this bond in the trenches over the last year or so that I feel are working very well. I don’t see why that wouldn’t continue,” said Edwards. “The last lap at Homestead could be different, but I think up until then it will be advantageous to have our guys running well.”
While Busch may find himself in this valuable position now, this was not always the case. Running for Roush Racing in 2004, Busch had to battle then-teammate Matt Kenseth hard in the Chase simply to get bonus points for leading laps.
“On the other side of the fence,” Busch said, “at Roush Racing when we had five cars in the Chase one year, I remember racing Matt Kenseth at Kansas Speedway just trying to get five points from him trying to lead a lap. He was like, ‘I have to go up against you to win this championship, so I’m not going to let you lead a lap.’ It definitely can hurt teammates when they’re out there racing together when they both have a shot at the championship.”
Looking forward to this year’s Chase, Busch is thankful he will not have to worry about battling teammates, instead he knows the guys on his team are doing all they car to bring the title home to Roger Penske.
“We’re using this scenario where we’re the only car for Penske Racing in it and the only Dodge in it,” Busch said of the Chase. “So, we’re putting all our eggs in one basket and that’s the 2 car.”
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