Well, here they are: The winless team that could turn the Chase for the Sprint Cup upside down and pull perhaps the biggest upset in the history of NASCAR.
Ryan Newman, crew chief Luke Lambert, and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team have been methodical and consistent this post-season, and it’s worked.
Granted, it took Newman’s well-timed shove of Kyle Larson on the final turn of last weekend’s Eliminator Round finale to get them into this Sunday’s Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But that’s neither here nor there now (besides, Larson’s cool with it). The 31 camp has joined Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano in the main event.
And as Lambert said today during a NASCAR teleconference, they’re not about to change what got them there.
“We got here because every week we’ve kept ourselves in the fight, and we didn’t go to the third race of the season and make it to the Championship Round; nobody did,” he said. “And throughout the Chase, nobody could assure themselves a ticket to Homestead the first race into the Chase. Because of that, we’ve just been having to take everything one step at a time.
“We will not be able to assure that we can be a champion the first run of the race, so we don’t put that pressure on ourselves. What we need to do as a race team is to just focus on what’s just in front of us, and for right now, that’s that Friday morning practice. When the race starts, it’ll be the first run of the race, and then for the pit stop guys it’ll be the first pit stop they do.
“So the thing that I’m going to emphasize with my group is we just take things one step at a time, look at what’s ahead of you, focus on doing the best job you can at that, and then we’ll take things the next step as they come. When things happen that we don’t want to happen, it’s important that you put that behind you and focus forward on what’s next ahead of you.”
As for the strategy that Lambert plans to employ during Sunday’s race, he figures that the early part of Sunday’s race will have each of the Championship 4 teams worry about themselves, not so much on what their rivals are doing.
But as the race progresses and the end gets in sight, he expects to see things get more tense between the title rivals.
“For the first part of the race for us, for me as a crew chief and our race team, we’re going to be focusing on our problems – the things that we need to do to make our car better, and to improve our execution,” he said.
“Then once we find ourselves in the closing stages of the race where we’ve done one of our final pit stops and you can kind of see the final run, run and a half, maybe two runs of the race and how they’re looking like they’re going to unfold, then we can start kind of racing against our competitors.”
From there, Lambert expects all of the Championship 4 to be right at the front by the finish.
“I see these four cars are all going to be on point, and I think it would be very likely to see all three of them, four of them in the top 5 at the closing stages of the race,” he said. “I would be surprised if the champion isn’t the winner of the race.”