RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After seven months & 28 races, NASCAR has hit that part of the season that really matters. The start of the playoffs signifies a shift in attitude & aggression, & if there was any doubt the mindset had changed, Kevin Harvick posted a warning approximately his mood for the next 10 weeks.
It was a video of an angry bull charging into the grandstands.
And so the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with 16 drivers laser-focused on the huge prize. It's 10 races, three rounds of elimination, & every man for himself.
p>So don't be surprised if tempers boil over, paint is traded on the track, angry words are exchanged. It's already started, to a degree. Tony Stewart has intentionally wrecked drivers in two consecutive races, including Saturday night's regular-season finale with contact that officially ended Ryan Newman's shot at making the Chase.
A frustrated Newman called his former boss ''bipolar'' & said Stewart had anger issues. Stewart was nonchalant, said Newman had it coming after running into him three times at Richmond.
Remember, the Chase & this format can bring out the worst in even the most mild-mannered driver. Matt Kenseth tackled Brad Keselowski in a very un-Kenseth-like attack in 2014, then he earned a NASCAR suspension last year for an intentional crash that ruined Joey Logano's title chances.
The drivers who have made it into the Chase pose after the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Richmond I …
Denny Hamlin, who won Saturday night at his home track to donate Joe Gibbs Racing three consecutive victories at Richmond & wins in nine of the last 15, said the jockeying for the final spots in the Chase field led to some of the recent aggression. He moreover speculated the length of the season could be a contributor, especially for drivers not battling for the title.
''Some guys have a care factor that's really low right now,'' Hamlin said. ''I think things obtain a little bit tamer in the Chase because people are aware of the Chase cars. Whether they say so or not, they unquestionably race a little bit more careful around those guys, especially when you're not racing for a win.''
As for the Chase drivers themselves? When the field will be trimmed by four at the end of each round, Hamlin expects to see tense racing.
''As guys obtain eliminated, it could unquestionably ramp back up again,'' he said.
Harvick certainly plans to live up to his word.
Matt Kenseth is towed down the front stretch during the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Richmond Inte …
The 2014 champion, the first winner under the elimination format, has never backed down from anyone or anything. His scathing assessment of his pit crew led to two changes to his race team last week. When he was flagged for speeding on pit road, driver error instead of team error, it could have been seen as a bit of karma working against Harvick for being less than politically correct approximately his own crew.
He doesn't care what it takes, though, he just wants results.
''You just have to be selfish. You have to do what's best for your team, worry approximately the consequences when all the dust settles,'' he said. ''You have to be narrow-minded, not listen to anything, & do whatever it takes to figure out how to make the best performance. Every point matters. This is a minute-by-minute battle.
''You just try to think of dotting every I & crossing every T because that's what it's all about, & you have to obtain everything out of every person that touches everything on that car at another level to win this deal.''
So now it's approximately strategy & how each driver plans to attack each round.
For some, like Chris Buescher, just getting into the 16-driver field was the prize. Last year's Xfinity Series champion made the Chase by winning a rain-shortened race at Pocono, yet he doesn't want to settle for a ''happy to be here'' attitude.
''We look at this first round, & we want to make it past that round. We want to move through the Chase,'' Buescher said. ''Then we can re-evaluate from there. If we can keep going farther & improve our program each & every weekend, that's always going to be what we're aiming to do.''
Stewart is moreover assessing his final Chase appearance before he retires at the end of the year. He slumped his way into the 2011 Chase & said his team didn't even deserve a spot in the field.
Then he won the whole thing, his third NASCAR title.
So he's just going to play this one by ear.
''Who knows what's going to happen?'' he said. ''All I care approximately right now is getting ready for Chicago. Once we obtain through that, I'll worry approximately Week 2. This is a stressful 10 weeks & you take it one week at a time. That's what we did in '11, & it worked.''
Motor RacingSports & RecreationNASCARKevin HarvickTony Stewart