NASCAR

Race to the Chase could get ugly

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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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We've been privileged to watch some outstanding performances this season by teams, like the Robbie Reiser-led No. 17 crew. By the time we hit those final 10 races, we're going to see something really special.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are locked into the Chase for the Nextel Cup. If nothing goes wrong at California Speedway this week, Richard Childress should be in position to get his first spot in the Chase with Kevin Harvick by the end of the race. Everybody on the No. 29 team and the whole RCR organization has done a great job. But for the rest of the drivers in the Race to the Chase, guess what? Unless something changes dramatically in California, Richmond will be a wide-open race. Two weeks ago at Michigan, five drivers in the top 10 changed positions. Last week at Bristol, seven guys changed positions. Fourth through 11th will be fighting for the final seven spots. When the music stops, it's going to be sad to think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. or even Tony Stewart might not have a chair in the top 10 if something goes wrong. After having such a fantastic, four-win season, it would be sad to see Kasey Kahne come up short. Kahne's stats look pretty good compared with the rest of the guys in the top 10. But one or two races can take the wind out of your sails and put you in the predicament that he's in right now. When you consider what-ifs, I wonder whether Kyle Busch would like to have some of the points that he lost for throwing his HANS Device at Casey Mears at the Coca-Cola 600. If he could get 25 points back right now, where would that put him? It would give him nearly a one-race cushion. That's how important points become at this stage of the game.

Speed Mail Jeff

Once the Chase starts, it'll be interesting to see some of the stuff that teams — especially Richard Childress Racing trot out. Kenseth and Reiser have have won a title and know what it takes. They're going to be gunning for it. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have been hitting their marks when it's counted all year long. The final 10 races could be unbelievable. Take a look at the numbers. The No. 48 team has 18 top-10 finishes, but the No. 17 team has 13 top-five finishes. The No. 29 team has 10 top fives. Even though the No. 20 is having some issues, they've also got 10 top-five finishes so some teams are poised to make a run for the title. They have shown outstanding consistency and the ability to win. We've also seen some fire from all of these guys. Stewart and Kenseth have stepped up when they've had to push and shove. They aren't taking it easy, and they're ready to beat and bang so they won't just going to cruise into this Chase. If they've got to get into a dogfight with somebody, they'll get up there and get ugly with the best of them.


FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW's three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

For autographed copies of Jeff Hammond's book "Real Men Work in the Pits" plus magnets, hats and more, check out www.dwstore.com.

For photos and appearances, visit Jeff's web site www.jeffhammond.com.

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart

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