12 Contenders concerned about Chase cut-off at Talladega

Joe Menzer - NASCAR Wire Service Thursday, Oct 02 1848

The key to surviving the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a three-race stretch that begins this Sunday at Kansas Speedway, then rolls into Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 11 and finally ends Oct. 19 at Talladega Superspeedway, is to arrive at Talladega not having to worry about surviving.

So said the Chase drivers interviewed Wednesday at Contender Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. None said they relish the idea of arriving at 'Dega needing to win -- or even pull off a strong finish -- to avoid being one of the four drivers who will be eliminated from the Chase field after that race.

“My guess is you’ll have probably 10 drivers still concerned about the points – the 12 of us who are left now in the Chase minus two winners at Kansas and Charlotte,” defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said heading into Sunday's race at Kansas (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). “So in that sense it will still be like a traditional Talladega fall race – white-knuckle racing for the last 50 laps or so. ... I would rather win at Kansas or Charlotte so I don’t have to worry about it.”

Brad Keselowski, who owns a series-high five Sprint Cup wins this season, said he couldn’t agree more. The Chase field began with 16 drivers, but four were eliminated after the Dover race last Sunday. Each of the 12 Contenders have had their points re-set to 3,000 for the upcoming round.

“For us, we’ve been lucky enough to win races early in the season and then again early in the Chase,” Keselowski said. “But now the points are re-set, and if we get behind in the wins or behind in the points, we’ll have to really ramp it up.

“It’s hard to predict what you’re going to see at Talladega with this new format. I suspect you’re going to see a group of guys lagging back – the guys who have a points cushion or the wins, maybe – but that just means you’re going to see a group of other guys really going for it. So in the end it’ll probably be a typical Talladega race, and that’s why everyone will have to watch.”

Keselowski went on to add that he considers Kansas “almost as much of a wild card as Talladega,” where anything could happen to anybody. And after it’s over, the drivers know only one race remains before possible mayhem on the 2.66-mile superspeedway at Talladega.

“That’s why I think the Charlotte race is potentially the most important race of this bracket and maybe the entire Chase outside of (the season finale at) Homestead. If you go out and win Charlotte and control your own destiny, that’s going to be huge,” Keselowski said.