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Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Updated: July 20, 6:19 PM ET
Chase race starting to heat up as pressure mounts

By Rusty Wallace
Special to ESPN.com

Emotions got the best of some drivers Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway, and that was most apparent in the wreck between Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart.

Kurt Busch
It's probably time for Kurt Busch to start getting anxious after a bad day at Loudon.

I watched that incident repeatedly, and it looked to me as though Newman was frustrated -- he was two laps down at the time. He was trying to get around Stewart and actually drove his car down too deep and got alongside and slid up into Stewart and lost it.

What happened is very easy to do at New Hampshire. It's a flat racetrack, but when you enter Turn 1, the inside lane has about 4 degrees less banking than the second lane. So when you are on the outside and driving into the corner, you are leaning on more banking than in the inside lane. Newman just got in there deep and lost it.

But I'm not worried at all about Stewart getting back into the top 10 because his car has been real fast all year long. He's in 11th right now and out of the Chase if it started today. He has had inconsistency problems of late but has a solid enough team that this shouldn't be a concern as he tries to get back into the race.

It does, however, look as if both Penske cars -- the No. 12 of Newman and the No. 2 of Kurt Busch -- pretty much have been eliminated from the Chase after another bad week, with Busch and Newman finishing 38th and 39th, respectively.

Kyle Busch rolling as Chase race heats up

Kyle Busch keeps surprising me. He's a good driver, and you can't take anything away from him. He's aggressive and a little controversial at times and rough around the edges, but he always seems to get the job done. I was also really impressed last week with Brian Vickers and how well he ran.

As good as Busch has been lately, though, it's hard to consider him a real title contender.

The odds are against him. He's a real on-again, off-again driver and a real aggressive driver; and an aggressive driver is not really what you want when you are chasing the championship. You need a smooth but aggressive driver instead of just an aggressive driver. My bet to win the title lies in the hands of four drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart.

And Carl Edwards has a great chance to get back into Chase contention. He won the Busch race and finished second in the Cup race, so he has momentum on his side right now. If he gets in the top 10, he very easily could finish in the top five when it is all said and done.

The toughest challenge for the drivers outside the top 10 -- Stewart, rookie Denny Hamlin, Edwards, Kurt Busch, Newman -- is they have to drive the races of their lives, drive with reckless abandon. When you have to use that strategy every week, it really tends to create wrecks and tear up equipment.

The one who can drive the hardest and keep the wheels on the tire -- so to speak -- is going to have the best shot at getting back into the top 10. Being out of the top 10 can lead to frustration and overdriving and eventually cause a lot of problems on the track.

Overtime hurts Ganassi

The fans like it, but the drivers don't. If you are leading the race with two laps left and you get a yellow flag, it's going to take three or four laps to clean the track, then have the green-white-checkered finish.

One of the things drivers fear most about green-white-checkered finishes is running out of fuel. Last week, Chip Ganassi's drivers, David Stremme and Reed Sorenson, brought newly designed cars to the track and both flew and ran great. Sorenson had a chance to win the race if he hadn't run out of gas because of the green-white-checkered finish. Stremme spent a lot of time in the top five. He eventually finished 11th but really had a great run.

Between the IRL and NASCAR, Chip Ganassi racing had a great weekend: a 1-2 finish in the IRL race and its cars running near the top at New Hampshire. The Cup cars have turned the corner and figured something out on their chassis, and that team has two good, young drivers, plus Juan Montoya coming on next year.

Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at rustywallace.com.