Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NASCAR NOTEBOOK; Conservatism Gone with New System

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NASCAR NOTEBOOK; Conservatism Gone with New System

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE, The Times-Union

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- A year ago Matt Kenseth put his championship season on cruise control three months before the finish line. Now all 10 qualifiers for the Chase for the Championship have to race like every position could be the determining factor.

And it just might be.

When series points leader Kurt Busch skipped a pit stop with 30 laps to go at the Phoenix International Raceway to maintain track position, it was clear his team wasn't going to be conservative. And while his older tires wound up dropping him to a 10th-place finish, it allowed him to take 41-point lead over Jeff Gordon into Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway.

And when his team tried to stretch the gas mileage instead of being safe with an early stop, he ran out of gas and lost any hope of a top-five finish.

If Busch had to do all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.

"It's the philosophy of working within our own realm of what's in your control, and that's to drive your car to your ability, not beyond it, and to create a safe zone around your race car," Busch said. "I struggled with that just a little bit [at Phoenix], in that one circumstance, and then the crew was trying to make sure that we only had to stop once more, and we came up a half a lap shy of making it on fuel. So, that was a mistake, my mistake, and then to be able to race our way back to 10th shows the strength of the race car, just was never able to maintain up front."

The Chase has changed the way the top teams approach the final 10 races, said Benny Parsons, a former NASCAR champion-turned-commentator for NBC Sports.

"Under the old system, Jimmie Johnson would have a 300-point lead and he wouldn't have won three races in a row because he would have been points racing," Parsons said. …

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