Chicago Hosts Chase Media Day
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on September 15, 2011 | 6:13 P.M. EST
The 12 members of this year's Chase class pose with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Trophy in front of the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. (Photo: Getty Images)
CHICAGO – The 12 drivers in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship met with the media on Thursday on the eve of the opening weekend of NASCAR’s playoff schedule.
The dozen championship hopefuls gathered in downtown Chicago to discuss kicking off the Chase for the first time at Chicagoland Speedway, site of Sunday’s Geico 400, and to size up their title hopes.
“I’m excited. I love change,” said Kevin Harvick, who comes into the weekend off his win in last Saturday night’s regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway. “I think we should change it up every year. Chicago is a great city. There’s a lot going on in Chicago this weekend as we come here to start the Chase and I’m looking forward to it.”
Harvick is a two-time Chicagoland winner going to Victory Lane in the track’s first two Sprint Cup Series races in 2001 and 2002. He enters Sunday’s event as the number two seed in the Chase and believes after his Richmond win he’s carrying a great deal of momentum into the Windy City.
“It definitely helps,” Harvick said. “We had a little bit of a rough summer and we got a little bit off of our game. I think a lot of that came from winning so many races early. We were able to try so many things and a lot of them, well most all of them, didn’t work. We went back to what we know over the last couple of weeks and we’ve had top-five cars and to get the win at Richmond gives us a lot of momentum going into the next ten weeks.”
Defending champion Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won at Chicagoland, one of five venues where he remains winless as a Sprint Cup Series driver although he scored his only career Nationwide Series win at the track in 2001, but likes the idea of kicking off the Chase in Chicago.
“I think the Chicago area and the race track is going to be a great host for the start of the Chase,” said Johnson, gunning for his sixth straight championship. "I’ve been close to victory here a few times. We've always run well and led laps here.”
Johnson has a little extra incentive this weekend as well with crew chief Chad Knaus calling Chicagoland home after growing up in nearby Rockford, Ill.
“I Really want to win here for the fact that it is in the Chase and also for Chad,” Johnson said. “We've been able to win a lot at my home track. I owe him a couple here and I need to get him one before long. Momentum doesn't hurt going into the Chase; but, we've been without momentum; we've had momentum.
“Another way to look at it is we've had momentum working against us and momentum working for us and we've been able to win either way. I've said all along, these final 10 races, it's its own world. When everything re-racks and the point spread is so small between first and 12th, it changes things and it's a whole new season. It's a clean sheet of paper and off you go."
Jeff Gordon may bring the most momentum into this year’s title run after ending the regular season on an upswing including a win in the second-to-last race before the Chase in Atlanta. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is hoping that success will carry him to a good start to the playoffs at Chicagoland.
“I feel like our team is really, really strong,” said Gordon. “I feel like in '07, while we gave Jimmie a great run and a great battle, I still feel like they had the momentum and were outrunning us just by a little bit on a regular basis.
“We're competing with everybody out there right now, and lately I feel like we've been better than most on a lot of different types of racetracks, short tracks, superspeedways, intermediates. We've got an awesome race team right now. I'm extremely excited.”
And add Gordon to the list of drivers who thinks bringing the opening round of the playoff schedule to Chicago is a good idea.
“Absolutely,” Gordon said. “This is such a great city, there are a lot of race fans already in the area and now you’re putting an important part – the most important part – of the NASCAR season to a big market like this, I can’t think of a better way to build some excitement around this year’s Chase.”