Drivers with a victory in hand can afford to consider a threat
By: Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service on March eleven, 2014
LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC – Dale Earnhardt Jr. had back-to-back second-spot finishes right after winning the season-opening Daytona 500.
If there’;s any doubt remaining that NASCAR’;s new Chase format has brought on a paradigm shift in the attitudes of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, listen to the 3 men who have won the very first 3 races.
It wasn’;t Las Vegas that made a gambler of Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was the newfound freedom that is now an integral portion of each and every victory.
Earnhardt gambled on fuel March 2 in Phoenix and created it to the finish, but he could not catch race winner Kevin Harvick.
Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte played an even longer shot Sunday in Las Vegas, knowing full nicely that they had been a half-lap to a lap brief on fuel. With stress from Brad Keselowski forcing Earnhardt to use far more fuel than he wanted to in the final run, the No. 88 Chevrolet ran out of gasoline on the backstretch of the last lap.
Keselowski took the checkered flag, and Earnhardt coasted across the finish line in second location.
So what? With a Daytona 500 victory in his pocket and a berth in the Chase all but assured, Earnhardt can afford to gamble every single single weekend if he wants to.
“Yeah, it was really interesting,” Earnhardt said. “I think the way the new format is — practically nothing is best, correct? — but it undoubtedly is displaying it has tons of positives, and it truly is far better as far as enjoyment for our sport.
“Yeah, it provides us freedom, and it really is nice to have that freedom to do the items that we did right now, even though we knew our odds weren’;t very good. We really shouldn’;t have manufactured it, and we did not, but we acquired to attempt simply because of the new system. So yeah, I think it’;s rather cool.”
And just to underline how various the perspective is from the emphasis on factors racing in prior many years, would Earnhardt and Letarte have made the very same gamble below last year’;s method?
“Absolutely not,” Earnhardt asserted. “I can say that with out a doubt.”
Soon after Sunday’;s race, Keselowski can reap the corollary benefits of winning, and he is seeking forward to what he referred to as “pressure-cost-free days” following the race. And the way Keselowski sees it, the new format could give one driver much more freedom to knock one more out of the way for a win if the “victim” currently has a victory.
That thought crossed Keselowski’;s thoughts when he was chasing Earnhardt in the closing laps.
“These days, when I was thinking about it, my considered was: Nicely, he’;s currently won a race, so he is acquired practically nothing to worry about,” Keselowski said. “That was kind of what I was thinking. I would have damn close to wrecked him if I had to, with that in mind. It’;s portion of the deal.”
In that respect, winning is a double-edged sword. Winning offers a driver and crew chief the luxury of taking odds they ordinarily wouldn’;t take, but it also puts a target on the bumper.
Why? Since drivers with out a victory may have fewer qualms about dumping a driver who already has been to victory lane and for that reason is a likely qualifier for the Chase.
As we have observed from the initial 3 races of the 2014 season, that dichotomy has presently created heightened drama on the track.
Most people in Sunday’;s crowd at Las Vegas have been standing and viewing breathlessly as Earnhardt battled Keselowski in the closing laps. When Earnhardt ran out of fuel, the collective groan appeared as loud as the jet fighter flyover that accompanied the National Anthem.
Although the fuel shortage was disappointing to Earnhardt followers, the drama it created only served to whet our appetites for what is likely to stick to when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Bristol this weekend.
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