Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Game On': The Chase Begins; Chase Drivers Give Their Forecasts for NASCAR's Playoff

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Game On': The Chase Begins; Chase Drivers Give Their Forecasts for NASCAR's Playoff

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

The only thing separating 12 drivers and a Nextel Cup Series championship is 3,227 laps of racing in the next three months. The Chase starts Sunday at the New Hampshire International Speedway, then weaves around the country with nine other stops, ending at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18.

Jimmie Johnson comes into stock car's playoffs with a two-race winning streak; Clint Bowyer enters without a victory in his entire Nextel Cup career. Jeff Gordon was the points leader in the 26-race regular season; Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick waited until the final laps of last Saturday's race to make the final cut.

Who's the favorite? Who's in trouble? What does it take to win a 10-race playoff? The 12 drivers know best, so let's ask them:

JIMMIE JOHNSON, 5,060 POINTS: "Last year, the way the Chase went and how bad of a start we got, we weren't in position to think of a championship until about eight races to go and then we left Phoenix with the points lead and things were going our way. I'm just going to try to stay calm and cool and get through these first five and try to be smart and smooth and attack when I can, but save that stuff to the end."

JEFF GORDON, 5,040: "There are so many guys who are capable. You have to put 10 good races together and that doesn't mean you have to be the fastest, best car, winning all the races. It means that you have to put the 10 best average finishes together."

TONY STEWART, 5,030: "The teams running the best right now are the teams that have a shot at winning the championship. You can call it whatever you want to call it, but it's still a matter of performance at the end of the day. It's still a sport that's a week-to-week sport and anything can happen."

KURT BUSCH, 5,020: "It is a tough challenge. You have to be at your very best for 10 weeks straight. You have to get your cars ready. The mind-set is if you have a smooth week going it seems to carry on to the next week and you gain a lot of points the next week as well."

CARL EDWARDS, 5,020: "I don't know if I'm a dark horse. We've run well enough lately. Hopefully, we're one of the guys to beat, but it doesn't really matter what people consider you, it's just how you run."

DENNY HAMLIN, 5,010: "If I have one concern right now going into the Chase - and it has nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of the car - it's just the momentum that we have right now. You're not going to go to the racetrack with any different cars, especially our team, because we have bad momentum going into the Chase."

MARTIN TRUEX JR., 5,010: "The favorite has got to be Jimmie Johnson. Obviously he is the defending champion and those guys just seem like no matter what happens, they can find a way to get a good finish. They're really good at doing that and that's going to be hard to beat. We'll see. …

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