When Richard Petty Motorsports’ Aric Almirola captured the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, it showed just what winning a race could mean for a race team. The win-and-you-are-in method for making the Chase that is being used for the first time this season was the perfect motivation for a race team that isn’t part of one of the bigger organization in the series.
The large multi-team organizations like Hendrick, Roush Fenway, Childress and Stewart- Haas are the usual names that dominate the Chase field, but with the number of drivers in the Chase increasing from 12 to 16, suddenly every organization has a better chance of making it into the Chase field. The easiest way to claim one of those 16 slots is to win a race and then the rest of your season is all about putting you and your team in a position to have a successful run in the Chase where another win can keep you in contention over the entire 10-week schedule.
Petty’s organization knows that an opportunity to have a team in the Chase is not a lock like it is with the larger organizations. A Petty team’s last appearance in the Chase was with Kasey Kahne when he finished 10th in 2009.
The organization now sets its sights on getting its second team with driver Marcos Ambrose into the Chase. The best opportunity for an Ambrose win comes on August 10 when the series rolls into Watkins Glen for the second and final road course race of the season. This had to be the track that Ambrose had circled on the Sprint Cup schedule as he has won the race two of the past three years and sat on the pole there last year.
Both Almirola and Ambrose will test at Watkins-Glen prior to the race, which shows how teams use their test sessions this year. Teams that have not secured their spot in the Chase know that a win is their best chance of doing so as the points race for the remaining spots is tightening up every week. That has prompted many teams to test at the seven remaining tracks leading up to the Chase field being set.
Prior to going into New Hampshire this past weekend, Michael Waltrip Racing took three teams there for a test session. The reason they went to New Hampshire was simple, all three MWR drivers have had success at the track. Brian Vickers is the race’s defending champion while his teammates Clint Bowyer is a two-time winner there and Jeff Burton is a four-time winner, including one where he led every lap.
Now for the teams in the Chase field, the testing has been saved for those tracks that makes up the Chase schedule. Teams already in the championship round have the opportunity to take some risk in the remaining races and to also plan their tests around the tracks that make up the schedule in the Chase that they feel they may have the best opportunity for a win.
The Chase still rewards those teams that win races as after every three races the lowest four teams without a win are eliminated from having the opportunity to run for the title. Win a race during any three-race stretch and you move on, regardless of where you sit in the points. The only exception is after nine races where only the top-four teams move to the final race of the season at Homestead Miami with the opportunity to run for this season’s championship crown.
PIT NOTES: Next weekend will be the second and final open weekend on the schedule, leaving 17 consecutive weekends of racing. The schedule resumes with one of the crown jewels on the schedule with the only stop of the year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Event: Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile quad-oval, 9 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: July 27, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Ryan Newman