The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will continue this weekend with one of the post-season’s biggest races, the Bristol Night Race.
Bristol, with its high banks, fast speeds and close-contact racing, always is a challenge, and it becomes even more so as the third and final race in the first round of the playoffs. After the race, the lowest four drivers in the playoff standings will be eliminated from a chance at the championship.
Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain sits eighth in the standings after a 13th-place finish Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Chastain moved up two positions and gained five points. He is 18 points above the playoff cutline entering Saturday night at Bristol.
The playoffs are all about the idea of moving on to the next round, and Chastain sits in good position to advance to Round 2. For most teams, the playoffs are a dance between aiming for a victory while also protecting high finish positions and the points they carry.
Phil Surgen, Chastain’s crew chief, is the guy who manages all this during races – and in the days preparing for them.
“Round 1 and Round 2 are about base hits and execution,” Surgen said. “It’s largely about doing what we did in Darlington (in the first race of the opening round, with a fifth-place finish). We didn’t have any issues during the race. The right side of the car was clean at the end of the day. Our slowest pit stops were still competitive. No mechanical failures. What you want is base hits and a double here and there during the day.”
But Surgen, while eyeing a good finish, also is looking for the opportunity for home runs.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the playoffs or not – if you have an opportunity to win you’re going to take it,” he said. “We’re not talking about Hail Marys, but if you’re in the top few and there’s a late caution and if it’s a gamble on tire strategy to win or finish sixth or seventh, it’s a pretty safe bet you go for the win. But we’re not going to throw a Hail Mary for a win and risk a 25th-place finish.”
At Bristol, Surgen will be focused on a top-10 run and a shot at victory.
“Last year there was a ton of attrition at Bristol,” he said. “Some of it was mechanical, some tire failures, some crashes. It took otherwise good cars out of contention. We’ll continue to take the approach that we need to execute and prepare to win. If it’s an opportunity we have, we’ll take it. If not, we need to come away with another solid day in the next handful of races.”