Drivers split on NASCAR's rear suspension limit
By JENNA FRYER
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Opinions were split this weekend at Richmond International Raceway about a NASCAR technical bulletin aimed to take control of rear suspension development.
Most drivers believed the bulletin was aimed directly at Hendrick Motorsports, which had found a way this season within the rules to improve the rear steering on their cars. Most teams followed and began doing variations of the same thing.
"A lot of people are focused (on) thinking that it is just Hendrick or big teams that have been working in this area," said five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. "I was in a conversation with Phil Parsons last week, a smaller team, they have been there, been doing this for a while they have adjusted. The field migrates quickly in certain directions and I think NASCAR is just making sure that people understand the parameters so that they can regulate in post-race and find ways to make sure no one is going above and beyond."
The bulletin limits how far teams can go with their rear suspension setups, which were being adjusted by teams to help the car's rear-axle steer. Doing so apparently created an aerodynamic advantage that helped cars travel faster through the corners.
Johnson, though, said the bulletin will lead to "no change" at Hendrick Motorsports in the cars it brings to Chicago next weekend when the rule goes into effect.
Brad Keselowski was one of the most outspoken drivers on the rear suspension issue over the summer, and he said it's going to be interesting to watch over the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"It's something that's got to play out. It certainly has my attention," he said, likening the bulletin to the NBA clarifying how it defines traveling. "You can make a rule saying traveling is illegal, but it's how it's enforced that really matters. If it's not (enforced) on LeBron and is on everyone else, it makes for a different game. I think the real challenge is how things are enforced and not what's written down on paper."
AT EASE: For the first time in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format, Kasey Kahne was at ease as he went into the "regular season" finale.
He's the only wild-card contender with multiple victories, and just needed a clean race to lock down a slot in the 12-driver field. He also had a shot at bumping defending series champion Tony Stewart out of the top 10 in the seeding process.
"It feels a lot more calm for sure," Kahne said. "I've missed by a few points and made it by just a few points. We've had pressure here a lot of times with the way the Chase all works out and where I've run in points over the years. I feel a lot better about it this time but we need to perform and do a good job Saturday night.
"I'd like to get in the top 10. If we run really well and have a shot at winning the race and Tony has a bad race that gives us a shot. It'll be interesting how it all works out but I feel confident in how we run at Richmond."
A rough start to the season - Kahne had three finishes of 34th or worse in the first six races - put Kahne in a hole he's been climbing out of all year. He used wins at Charlotte and New Hampshire to get his season rolling again, and hasn't finished worse than 12th since late June.
Now his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson thinks Kahne is a quality championship threat.
"I see him being pretty high," Johnson said. "I know how good they are and how capable they are of winning races and the championship."
TEAM-BUILDING: Crew chief Steve Letarte will host Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team at his home on Sunday in what could be a day of fun for the Chase-bound team.
But Earnhardt indicated there will be some work to do.
"The team is going to get around each other and we'll talk about the season we've had, what our expectations were," he said. "You'll think about that all week."
Earnhardt is off to ESPN on Tuesday for a full day of media obligations, and will be in Chicago on Wednesday when NASCAR hosts its Chase kickoff. He knows he'll be thinking about his season and the Chase a lot.
"We'll be thinking about that all week," he said. "The season we've had. The opportunity we have - that I feel like I have as a driver to win the championship. I'm pretty sure by the time the race is about to start in Chicago, the energy level is going to be about as high as it needs to be. Probably higher than it should be. You'll probably have to calm yourself down a little bit just to realize that it is 10 individual races. And, you have to do your best in every single one."
SPEAKING: Kevin Harvick celebrated his Nationwide Series victory on Friday night by "Facetiming" in Victory Lane with infant son Keelan. Asked later if he's a softer, gentler Harvick since becoming a father, the driver quickly proved not much has changed.
"I still want to punch Kyle Busch in the mouth," he laughed.
Updated September 8, 2012