Teams Willing to Gamble More

NASCAR

With a win all but assuring a Chase spot, teams are not as afraid of taking gambles. (Photo: Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz. - Just two races into the Sprint Cup season, NASCAR’s emphasis on winning has made an impact.

Joey Logano was more aggressive on a late-race restart, and Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was more comfortable with a fuel gamble during Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Neither worked - Kevin Harvick scored a dominating win - but it’s easy to see how NASCAR’s new policy of a win all but assuring a spot in the Chase could change the racing.

“It’s all about the win, right?’’ Logano said after his daring restart backfired.

Yes it is.

It always has been that way but now there’s more incentive for drivers and teams to take risks.

Logano showed how aggressive drivers can be without crossing the line and dumping the leader.

He was third and aligned behind Harvick for the final restart with nine laps to go. Logano pushed Harvick across the start/finish line and dived to the bottom. Logano couldn’t make the move work and fell to fourth.

“Third place really doesn’t mean anything,’’ Logano said. “Last year, you may have taken a third place and the points, but this year it’s like, “hey, go for it.’ ‘’

Harvick said he was expecting something from Logano on the final restart because of how Logano had been aggressive on previous restarts.

“You try to go into that (first) corner and prepare yourself to get hit,’’ Harvick said. “You hope that doesn’t sacrifice the guy on the outside of you, but you have to put yourself in a position to defend yourself to get hit. I didn’t crowd him. I felt like I gave him a lane. I felt like if I could get myself into the first corner and hit the throttle, I was going to come out ahead of him just because of the fact we were able to turn sooner all day and get in the throttle sooner on the restart.’’

Harvick did and pulled away to win a race he led 224 of the 312 laps.

Harvick’s dominance didn’t keep others from trying different strategies.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was going to be short on fuel after his last pit stop before all the cautions but crew chief Steve Letarte told his driver not to worry about saving fuel.

“We’re here to try to win,’’ Letarte told Earnhardt on the radio.

Letarte said that he would have made the call even if they didn’t have the safety net of a win getting them in the Chase. But having that chip via Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 win made the gamble easier to take.

“The gamble was not as nerve-racking and not as a big a gamble for us considering the circumstances,’’ said Earnhardt, who finished second. “The new system definitely allowed us to be more carefree about that and not have to really think it over.’’

Now Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers will have the opportunity to gamble over in the next 24 races since they have a victory.

“It allows (Childers) to stretch fuel windows and do things and do a few things,’’ Harvick said. “For the guys in the shop, it allows them to really broaden their horizons. You can really get aggressive on really everything.’’

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