While the twelve drivers set to compete in NASCAR’s Chase may share the dream of being the sport’s champion, reaping the benefits of being “top dog” for the year, each one of them comes to the Chase with their own individual hopes, dreams, and motivations.
Denny Hamlin currently sits in the cat bird’s seat, with the most wins and the most bonus points giving him top seed. But there is no doubt that the motivation and the will for Hamlin’s championship run was born in March when he had to succumb to knee surgery to repair the damage he did in the off season playing basketball.
Despite incredible pain, Hamlin got right back into his car and soldiered on, demonstrating to himself and his team that he had the fortitude to compete, for that race and now for the championship. He continues to exude that toughness and confidence, which is no doubt his motivation as he prepares do to battle to keep that top seed to the end.
“We’re tough right now,” Hamlin said. “We’ve got the most wins and hopefully that will carry us for the rest of the season. At this point, I’d say we could win all of them.”
The motivation for the number two driver coming into the first Chase race is simple. Jimmie Johnson just wants to make history….again. Johnson conquered that feat last year when he was the first NASCAR driver ever to win four consecutive championships. He would make history again with a fifth in a row.
“It’s been awfully tough to win four in a row, but we’ll show up and give 100 percent,” Johnson said. “We just want to do our best.”
The third seed was first throughout most of season and Kevin Harvick, living up to his nickname, is just ‘happy’ to be there. After a miserable year last year when he not only missed the Chase but was close to leaving Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick is back with a vengeance and his motivation is no doubt to prove that he truly is now at the top of the game.
“I think it’s the most competitive that we have ever been,” Harvick said. “We are competitive as far as speed and the things that you need to race for wins and win the championship.”
Kyle Busch may not be known as necessarily ‘happy’ but he seems almost elated to be in the Chase, especially after being on the outside looking in last year. For Busch, his championship motivation is to show the world and all of the fans that love to hate him that he is the real deal and can actually seal the deal.
“You fight every day of your year to make the Chase,” Busch said. “This is all part of the fighting to get to the point where you can fight some more through the last ten weeks against the best in racing.”
Busch’s older brother Kurt is just nipping at the heels of his baby brother in this year’s Chase in the fifth starting position. So, perhaps Kurt Busch’s motivation is just that…to show his sibling just who is king of the hill in the world of NASCAR.
But Busch has another Chase motivation and dream. He wants to be the one who survives the fray, finally bringing home the NASCAR Sprint Cup to his ‘captain’ Roger Penske for the first time in the sport.
“I know from experience that you can get it going in the right direction,” Busch said. “You can keep the momentum growing and sort of build some insurance for something bad happening later on during the ten-race stretch.”
Sixth seed Tony Stewart only has to look at his uniform for his Chase motivation, sporting ‘Stewart-Haas Racing’ on his chest. Stewart would be the first owner driver since Alan Kulwicki to claim the championship.
“You do what it takes and you do what you have to do, but I feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum right now,” Stewart said. “It’s just been a lot of hard work with our organization and the results are starting to show.”
For seventh seed Greg Biffle, ninth seed Carl Edwards, and eleventh seed Matt Kenseth, there is simply one motivation to claim the Cup, that of honoring team leader Jack Roush who has been through so much this year, surviving yet another plane crash and losing sight in one eye. These three drivers will have one similar mantra, “Win it for Jack.”
Jeff Gordon, who has been so consistent this season yet gone winless, is motivated to show he still has what it takes, even in the waning years of his career. Like his teammate Johnson, the ‘original four time’ champ is also hoping to continue his ‘drive for five’ effort.
“When it comes to championships, I always like to lean toward experience,” Gordon said. “I think we are really solid. I think we’ve got an awesome shot at the championship.”
The ‘other’ Jeff, with the last name of Burton, currently heads into the Chase for the Championship in the tenth spot. His motivation is that he is desperate to be at the head table of the NASCAR banquet before he ends his racing career.
“It’s going to be intense,” Burton said. “When you waited your whole life for something and it’s in front of you, it’s going to be intense, it’s going to be full of emotion, and as it should be.”
The final Chase driver, Clint Bowyer, hung on to make it in and is bringing up the Chase rear. His whole motivation is to prove that he has every right to be in the championship hunt.
“You kind of go in as the underdog under the radar,” Bowyer said. “The good thing is that we do have a lot of momentum right now. That’s what got us in this thing.”
Regardless of their motivations, hopes or dreams, twelve drivers will now officially start the competition for the coveted Cup. Their Chase will begin with the first race this weekend at Loudon, New Hampshire, continuing on to the final showdown in Homestead, where one of these twelve will be crowned as the best in this year’s class.