For pole-sitter Denny Hamlin, it’s a chance to gain bonus points for the upcoming Chase for the Championship.
For second-place starter Carl Edwards, it’s a chance get his relationship with new crew chief Chad Norris off to a fast start so he can work his way back into playoff contention.
And for third-place starter Joey Logano, it’s a chance to prove to Gibbs, and anyone else in the sport, he deserves a job next year.
“Really no pressure; it is all about winning from this point on for our team,” Hamlin said after a lap of 182.763 mph. “It’s all about getting those three bonus points that will help us in the Chase. We saw last year that three points can make a difference in winning a championship and not. We are going to try to give it everything we can and obviously a good starting spot would go a long way.”
A year ago Tony Stewart gained 15 bonus points in the playoffs to tie Edwards for the championship. Those same five wins allowed Stewart to win the tiebreaker for his second Sprint Cup Series championship.
Hamlin goes into today’s 1 p.m. start (ESPN) ranked fifth in the standings. He also has two wins. He likely will qualify for the Chase as a top-10 driver or as a wild card entry based on victories.
That means he can focus on different things – like going fast. As far as he’s concerned, second place is the first loser.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “Usually when we qualify well we race well.”
Edwards is 11th in points with no wins. He needs to improve in either – or both – areas if he’s going to qualify for the Chase. The team made a drastic move during the final open date a week ago by promoting Norris while Bob Osborne deals with some medical issues.
Edwards has seven races to make something happen before the playoffs start.
“You are in denial, then bargaining, then acceptance. I think we accept that we just have to do it,” he said after a lap of 181.984 mph. “There is nothing really to say so part of that I think is just that this is all kind of new. Somebody asked me what it is like working with Chad and I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t even know him.’ This is all new.”
Logano has the most to gain with a victory today. Matt Kenseth announced last month he will leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the year. If he winds up at Joe Gibbs Racing as expected, Logano may be the odd-man out.
Right now, he’s trying not to get caught up in his future. If he wins races, especially at Indianapolis, things should fall into place.
“There’s not an easy part here; this place is so line sensitive,” Logano said. “You have to hit your line right in all four corners and that’s a really big deal so if you miss it, that’s a really big deal. It’s really tricky around here.”
Logano also has one victory this year. A win at Indy would move him into one of two wild card spots.
Aric Almirola will start fourth, followed by Greg Biffle in fifth, Jimmie Johnson in sixth, Kyle Busch in seventh, last year’s winner Paul Menard in eighth, Clint Bowyer in ninth and Kenseth in 10th.
Johnson and Menard are the only Chevrolet drivers starting in the top 10. Johnson (three wins) and Menard (one) are a big part of Chevrolet’s nine-year winning streak at the Brickyard.
Hamlin hopes to change all that.
“There is so much history here,” he said. “It’s just a different feel – Gasoline Alley, the garage stalls that we have. Everything is different than what we have at a normal race track. For me, it’s the top priority as far as winning in my book.”
And it would satisfy his other agendas, too.