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AP Photo/Jim Cole
Excluding Kasey Kahne's blown engine, the average finish of the other 11 Chase drivers Sunday was 8.1.
What does that mean, you ask? It means the driver who wins the 2009 playoff probably needs to finish in the top five almost every race.
The Chasers dominated things on the 1-mile oval at New Hampshire, sweeping the top four spots and claiming six of the top seven.
"You could have thrown a blanket over the five [Chasers] that finished up front," Kurt Busch told reporters after finishing sixth. "It just was a matter of which sequence you came through."
The worst finisher of the 11 Chase drivers who completed the race was Carl Edwards in 17th, which normally isn't a terrible day, but it left Edwards 11th in the Chase standings, 113 points behind Mark Martin.
"We worked hard all day and my guys did a great job on pit road, but it just wasn't fast," Edwards said of his No. 99 Ford after the race. "In racing, it's really important to be fast."
The need for speed goes without saying, but it isn't just a fast car. All the playoff drivers have fast cars. Sunday's results came down to pit strategy, making good decisions on dangerous restarts and knowing when to race aggressively.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who raced conservatively all season as part of his team's strategy for making the Chase, went for it Sunday in the Chase opener, finishing third. He angered Jeff Burton with a bumping incident late in the race and was upset with winning driver Martin for slowing down to cut him off on the final restart.
Denny Hamlin, who edged by Montoya at the end for second place, said no one is going to give an inch now.
"I think everyone panics,'' Hamlin said in a postrace interview. "When you see that the top 10 are all Chase guys, you think, 'Man, I have to fight for every position.' Track position means so much, so every hole you see on the track, you immediately go for. Everyone is jumping to every opportunity he can."
One tiny mistake can bring major negative consequences. A loose axle cap on Tony Stewart's car transformed his day from a possible victory to a 14th-place finish.
Stewart had a 237-point lead entering Richmond 10 days ago. With the points reset for the playoff and one mediocre race, he goes to Dover in sixth place, 74 points back.
Stewart wasn't in a mood to talk after the race Sunday, but crew chief Darian Grubb didn't need to talk to his boss to know how he felt.
"I'm sure he is upset, just as much as I am," Grubb said immediately after the race. "He should be. We let him down. We have to assemble that car to the utmost of our abilities and we missed it."
Everything is magnified in the 10-race playoff. Finishing in the top 15 consistently was good enough to make the Chase. It won't be anywhere near good enough to win the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson's average finish was 5.7 in the Chase races last year when he won his third consecutive title, by 69 points over Edwards.
With eight Chase drivers finishing in the top 11 at New Hampshire, it's clear the 2009 champion will need a similar effort to win the title this year.
The Nationwide Series was off last weekend. The series races Saturday at Dover International Speedway, with eight events remaining in the 2009 season.
Kyle Busch is trying to win his first Nationwide title and become the fourth consecutive Cup regular to win the feeder league crown. He has a commanding 201-point lead over Carl Edwards in the season standings.
Brad Keselowski is the top driver who isn't a full-time Cup racer. He ranks third in the season standings, 96 points behind Edwards
Kyle Busch won his fifth Camping World Truck Series race of the season Saturday at New Hampshire, but he might have fallen short if not for some team disharmony at Kevin Harvick Inc.
Harvick, the team owner who also was competing in the event, and employee Ron Hornaday Jr. have some issues to work through.
Hornaday finished second and Harvick was third. But Harvick felt he had the fastest truck, so Hornaday should have let him by so he could try to run down Busch, who was low of fuel.
This is a problem of Cup drivers racing in feeder leagues. Hornaday is leading the standings and trying to win a championship for KHI. Harvick is racing for fun and just trying to win the event.
So what's more important, Hornaday's getting five extra points for second place or Harvick's getting a victory for KHI?
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.