Pockrass: Chase leaves no time for payback

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Matt Kenseth hasn’t even bothered to look at a replay of how he and Ryan Newman made contact Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t bother having conversations with Carl Edwards about how he possibly wronged him, or with NASCAR about the oil on the track that caused Earnhardt to slide.

Kyle Busch got texts from an oh-so-very-sorry Kyle Larson and his crew chief over Larson’s blunder that cost Busch at Charlotte, but Busch said he can’t dwell about what could have been in the opening race of the Contender Round.

These drivers, who have combined for 11 wins this year, certainly remember what happened a week ago. But for at least a few hours Sunday, they’ll have to forget. As mad, or at least as frustrated, as they might be at their competitors, they can’t afford to let that cloud the fact they still have a chance to advance to the next round of the Chase.

“I’ve got to focus on the next two races and try to win so I can advance,” Earnhardt said. “If we don’t advance, we can change our focus.”

The Chase field gets cut from 12 to eight after Talladega, with the Chase drivers who won in the three races earning automatic bids to the next round and the remainder of spots being filled by points.

To advance, Kenseth and Earnhardt likely will need to win either Sunday in the Hollywood Casino 400 or next week in the 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Kenseth sits 32 points out of eighth for the current last spot. Earnhardt is 19 back; Busch is 10.

In other words, Kenseth has a lot more to worry about than a little rift with Newman.

“We’ve always raced each other really well,” Kenseth said. “Since we wrecked, I most likely wasn’t clear so I’m sure at the end of the day it was my fault.

“I still haven’t watched it or seen it, but neither Ryan or I, either one of us wanted to be in that position, it hurt both of us. I can’t really do anything about last week [but] just try to be smarter and if there’s a problem, try to fix it with that driver and move on.”

These drivers won’t take a checkers-or-wreckers approach and they will do their best to treat things just as normal, not bucking to the pressure to try to make moves that likely are too aggressive.

“I don’t think you want to get wrecked for any reason, but you’ve got to know when you are beat,” Earnhardt said. “You’ve got to understand when you are beat. You just have to make good judgment calls out there.

“If a guy wants to run in the back of you and wreck you, he can do that. But you’ve got to be able to go out there and be fast and try to make good decisions on restarts and be aggressive on restarts and get the lead and be in the lead at the end.”

Kenseth always vows that nothing changes. And he sees no reason to change his style this week.

“The rewards are greater if you win obviously,” Kenseth said. “I don’t know if the penalty is worse or not from wrecking last week, no matter what the Chase format is.”

Busch doesn’t believe his deficit puts him in a win-or-else situation. He won’t do anything to ruin his chances.

“We do have to get a good top-5 finish,” Busch said. “If we don’t come out of here with a top-5, our chances are going to be even slimmer next week at Talladega.”

Busch had the most bizarre accident a week ago. Under caution, Busch was among a group of cars trying to fake going to pit road. Larson, just ahead of him, was told to pit, and he cut in front of Busch as Busch attempted to get back up in the racing groove. Larson nailed Busch’s car as Busch was trying to get back on the racing surface.

“I have yet to fully comprehend and understand how he ever thought he was going to make the commitment cone,” Busch said. “I’ve been in that position before where my crew chief called me too late and I’m like, ‘There’s not a chance bro.’

“He wanted to do what the crew chief said and try it. It was never going to work.”

Busch won’t race Sunday looking to make things difficult on Larson, who has a good reputation among the drivers for not making mistakes.

“It was an honest mistake. … One of those Kyle Busch Chase deals,” said Busch, who has never won a race in October. “It never seems to end. There’s no reason for payback on that wreck.”

Some might say trying to fake only invites problems and is possibly too dangerous for a car in the Chase, but Busch scoffed at that.

“There are 12 other cars that are behind me that are on pit road also or on the apron that are thinking of coming to pit road, right?” Busch said. “So we all do the same thing each week. I guess my technique is too good.”

That might seem a little cocky for a guy wrecked Sunday. But there’s something to be said for that — a driver can’t tiptoe around the track and hope to win the championship. Every position is so precious that a driver in some ways must race aggressively and hope he gets the racing luck.

Edwards could easily have damaged his car in the contact with Earnhardt.

“It is so difficult at some of these mile-and-a-halves, everyone is very protective of their positions and everyone is aggressive and trying to get every spot you can,” Edwards said. “It’s racing and you just have to do the best you can.

“You have to make decisions in the heat of the moment and every once in a while stuff happens. I’m definitely glad we didn’t suffer any damage from it and I wish it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did to end up ruining the 88’s [Earnhardt’s] day, but it was just tough racing.”

Earnhardt, even though he said he won’t wreck Edwards, didn’t think he necessarily deserved to get hit.

“I thought he was impatient and run in the back of us,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t cut him off or run down into [the next groove]. He didn’t hit me in the quarter panel, he hit me in the back of the car.”

But as Earnhardt said, he can’t let it change his focus. He starts 15th Sunday. Busch starts third; Kenseth starts 11th.

“We are not close enough to the top eight to sort of have a strategy,” Earnhardt said. “We are just going to go out there and race and see how it works out for us and try to win.

“We have two opportunities and we are a good enough team so we will see how that works out.”

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