Much Ahead in Regular Season Stretch

Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman

Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman are among the drivers battling for a spot in the Chase. (Photo: Getty Images)


The final seven races of the Sprint Cup Series regular season will be an interesting run in deciding the 12 drivers that make this year’s Chase field.

Beginning Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sprint Cup drivers and teams will tackle a variety of tracks of all shapes and sizes in their quest to earn a berth in the 2012 playoffs.

There will be several challenges along the way and enough storylines to keep fans interested through the dog days of summer:


The annual trek to The Brickyard is usually a roller coaster day that provides more than its share of surprises. While Indianapolis may not generate the kind of side-by-side racing many fans love, that’s not to say a high level of competition and intrigue won’t accompany the 2012 edition. Paul Menard’s emotional win a year ago put him in the thick of the wild card battle. Will we see another long shot contender kissing the bricks at the end of the weekend in the Circle City?


After last month’s barnburner at Pocono, anticipation is sky high for the second trip of the summer to the 2.5-mile triangular track. The first-ever 400-mile Pocono race proved shortening the distance of the event made for a much better product with intensity and immediacy at a very high level all afternoon. Throw in the pit road speeding issues that plagued so many contenders back in June and next month’s return visit has all the makings of another dandy.


Let’s face it; the first Sprint Cup road course race of the year in Sonoma was a bit of a letdown. Most everyone expected a knock down drag out battle like the previous two seasons at the former Infineon Raceway generated. It didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean Watkins Glen will follow suit. Emotions are getting higher as the summer wears on and the Chase nears. That has the potential to lead to some tight racing and rumpling of sheet metal, but the time the yearly pilgrimage to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is upon us.


Last month’s lightning fast speeds around the newly repaved two-mile oval led to some nervous moments for NASCAR and Goodyear. The tire manufacturer made the bold decision to bring in a new left side tire the night before the Quicken Loans 400 in the name of safety and to avoid an outbreak of blistered tires. The move worked and in the aftermath, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole the headlines by ending his four-year winless drought. Goodyear has a tire test slated at MIS next Monday and plans to have the right rubber when the Pure Michigan 400 hits the track.


There is no doubt the joint will be full with a crowd of 160,000 plus expected to jam the Tennessee short track for the premier night race on the schedule. What isn’t known yet is what the track’s recent reconfiguration project will yield in terms of the racing. Will the “old” Bristol style be back with drivers banging into one another now that the multiple groove option is gone? Or will some fans again be let down because of limited contact and more racing than wrecking? This year’s race may be one of the most important in Bristol’s long NASCAR history.


NASCAR’s new Labor Day weekend tradition has found a perfect home at the lightning-fast AMS. The 1.5-mile track’s worn out surface provides some of the best intermediate-sized track racing in the sport. Last year’s epic battle between teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon was a highlight of the season. There’s no reason to believe the 2012 end of summer run will be any different.


The last race to decide the Chase field has the potential to be an exciting climax to the regular season. The inclusion of a pair of wild card spots last year proved to be a solid addition in determining the playoff lineup. However, Richmond has proven things can go either way in recent years with the potential of either a wild night of racing or more sedate proceedings if drivers go into a defensive mode to protect their Chase positions. In seven weeks, we’ll all find out after the checkered flag flies and which 12 drivers go on to have a shot at winning the 2012 championship.

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