Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NASCAR Resets Itself for Chase; Cup Series Qualifiers Are Trailing Busch and Watching for Johnson

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NASCAR Resets Itself for Chase; Cup Series Qualifiers Are Trailing Busch and Watching for Johnson

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

LOUDON, N.H. - In the next 10 races, a champion will emerge from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The winner will be the driver who has a fast car and a flawless pit crew, avoids problems and has the ability to play mind games.

Race teams not only have to ratchet up their games for the playoffs, but drivers have to be able to take criticism and survive 10 pressure-packed weekends of racing.

Kyle Busch goes into the Chase for the Championship this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the favorite. He won eight of the first 26 races this season. Carl Edwards won six times, and Jimmie Johnson won four races. No other driver in the playoffs has more than one win.

Based on NASCAR's bonus plan for wins, Busch starts with a 30-point edge over Edwards and 40 over Johnson. Everyone else is at least 70 points behind. And while everyone admits Busch has shown to be the driver to beat during the regular season, some slyly suggest that, at 23, he's too young to survive the strain.

"It's hard to bet against Kyle, because they are strong, real strong," four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon said. "Being prepared talent-wise and being prepared mentally is a little bit different. I'm always going to side with the guys that are running good and have experience. I just think that if you're capable of running up front and your team is prepared, I'm going to go with experience."

Last year, Gordon dominated the regular season. He had fives wins and a 317-point lead after 26 races, but under the Chase format, it was all erased for the playoffs. Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was hot during the Chase and won the championship.

And Johnson seems to have found his stride in the past two months. He has won three times in the past seven races.

"Yeah, you'd be foolish to count out anyone in the top 12 with the caliber of race teams you have and the drivers," Johnson said. …

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