Throughout this year's Chase season, SI.com will feature guest Q&As from athletes both within and outside the sport to give their take on how this year's Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship is shaping up. Our first guest Q&A comes courtesy of Nationwide and Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski.
SI.com: Some people approach the Chase in different ways: consistency vs. going all-out, trying to win every race. What do you think is the right strategy under this system, the approach you would take if you were in it?
Brad Keselowski: It's a little of both. I think you got to go for the wins when you have a shot to win. Each driver knows the tracks where they feel they're the best at, and when you go to tracks where you don't feel like you can win, you need to be consistent. I think it's a mixed strategy that will end up being successful in the end.
SI.com: Now, you had a little incident with Juan Pablo Montoya last October, where he complained you were racing him harder than you should as someone not going for the championship. As someone not in the Chase, will you race any of the championship competitors any differently? Do you think this whole "race the title contenders with kid gloves" complaint is a myth, or has some factual evidence behind it?
BK: Well, I don't plan to race those people any differently. Everyone's different about that, but I don't race certain drivers easier because of past circumstances. I might race them harder, but never easier.
SI.com: There's a lot of talk this year that a driver could win the title without winning a race. Do you think it's possible someone in this year's field could do it? Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon are among the winless...
BK: Yeah, theoretically it's possible. There's a very good chance of it, but I don't think it will happen this year. It could happen one year, though.
SI.com: You and Denny Hamlin have clashed through the years, but he enters this postseason one of the prohibitive favorites to challenge Jimmie Johnson. What do you see about Denny this year that's allowed him to take that step, or is he still the same old driver that could find trouble over the last 10 races?
BK: I don't see anything different, but perhaps I'm wrong. That's really hard to get a read on; he's always been competitive, in contention to win races. I don't see anything different there. He's put together a little better year this year, but to be quite honest, if the Chase were only 10 drivers, like it used to be, we'd be talking at Richmond about how he was on the bubble. That just goes to show it's going to take more than what he's done this year to take that next step.
SI.com: Jimmie Johnson is still the favorite in most peoples' minds to win the Sprint Cup title. Is he in yours?
BK: I don't see how you can bet against him or Kevin Harvick. Those two are pretty equal, as far as I'm concerned.
SI.com: Give me a dark horse that you're looking at over the last 10 races.
BK: Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards.
SI.com: Al right, tell me how this 2010 Chase plays out -- taking your teammate, Kurt Busch, out of the equation.
BK: The 2010 Chase plays out as being won by pit strategies and double-file restarts at some of the most critical races where track position is important. Tracks like Kansas and Martinsville ... and then it comes down to Talladega, not getting that crucial DNF that ruins your year. I'll pick Kevin Harvick as the first number one seed to win it since Tony Stewart in 2005. He's certainly the most consistent driver all year, undoubtedly. He's shown he can win races, he's one of the smartest race car drivers out there, and his team has proven they have fast race cars on every genre of racetrack.
I don't know if I believe Jimmie Johnson hasn't been giving 110 percent. I know the playbook Chad Knaus has, and I'm pretty sure it's in full effect. Quite honestly, the performance is not at the same level. Gibbs, it's hard to get a good read on them. Certainly, they can go and win a bunch of races in the Chase, but you never know about them from a reliability standpoint.
And I know I can't consider him, but don't forget about my teammate. If Kurt comes out of the gate strong at Loudon, he'll be really tough to beat. If he finishes each of the first three Chase races in the top 10, I honestly think he'll win it.