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Fanning the Flames: Go for the Jugular or Play it Safe?

The offseason is only a few days away, but as they say, there is no rest for the weary. It’s been a blast talking with so many of you during my first season on Frontstretch, so keep those questions coming and we’ll publish a few Fanning the Flames columns during the circuit’s downtime. Besides, some of the juiciest stuff happens away from the track, right?

A question hits while digesting that turkey or wrapping a present? You know where to find me. And thanks again, everyone, for a fun season.

Q: Will Gene Haas’s sentencing have any effect at all on his (Haas CNC Racing) team?Allen McCarty

A: Apparently not, Allen. The team has been operating with the knowledge that Haas could face serious slammer time since he pled guilty to tax fraud in August. Race team general manager Joe Custer will continue the day-to-day oversight of the race team while Haas is gone.

Seems to me the bigger problem the company has is that it employed two new drivers in Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs while losing two sponsors in Best Buy and Yellow Transportation. At least they are in the Top 35 in owner points, which will guarantee their participation in the first five races of 2008. So they have that going for them… which is nice.

But the other problem I see is that former drivers Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter seemed completely in the dark concerning their status for ’08, even after Mayfield and Riggs were brought on board. That was a weird situation that speaks to a lack of communication and worse, a lack of leadership.

Q: Hi Matt. I have been looking for stats on who has the most DNFs and DNQs for the 2007 season. I can’t seem to find concrete stats without having to add up everyone’s numbers myself. Do you have those numbers that you could share? Thanks in advance!Mac

A: Ah, the linemen stats. You know how they say offensive linemen don’t get any media play unless they do something wrong? Such is the case for Kevin Lepage (23 DNQs), Ward Burton (19), Mayfield (18), Michael Waltrip (17) and AJ Allmendinger (15) this year. Well, Mikey gets plenty of TV time thanks to his own Q&A sessions on the NAPA commercials… but you get the idea.

As for DNFs, it’s Ryan Newman, Joe Nemechek, David Reutimann and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sharing the load in this dubious category: each driver has nine DNFs with one race remaining. Burton and Dale Jarrett are next on the list with eight apiece. Of note, Martin Truex Jr. leads the Chase drivers with four DNFs, while Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick are the only drivers to start every race and not retire early. You’re jinxed now, Kev. Sorry.

Q: Everyone is buzzing about Jimmie Johnson winning four races in a row and trying to make it five at Homestead. The fact that is not getting much talk is Greg Biffle will try to win his fourth straight race at Homestead this weekend, too. I remember Earnhardt Jr. winning four in a row at Talladega and Johnson winning four at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. My question is. who are the other drivers that have won four races in a row at one track?Charles Burns

A: I’m going to limit this to current Cup tracks, as I could search for weeks trying to compile a complete list. That said, you have to look a ways before Junior won his four at Talladega (’01 – ’03) and Johnson at LMS (’04 – ’05). Of course the streak most cited is Darrell Waltrip‘s seven consecutive wins at Bristol from 1981 – 1984, but few mention that Cale Yarborough pulled the double-double at Bristol in 1976 and ’77. Bill Elliott drove the Coors-Melling Thunderbird to four consecutive victories at Michigan in his ’85 – ’86 heyday, while Fast Freddie Lorezen had a four-for-four run at Martinsville from ’63 – ’65. Finally, what list such as this would not be complete without the King: Richard Petty won seven straight at Richmond, then known as the Richmond Fairgrounds, from 1970 – ’73.

Since we’re on the subject, I might mention that there are a couple of active three-race win streaks that could grow to four next year. Not surprisingly, both involve Johnson who, with a win at either Las Vegas or Martinsville, would become the only driver to win four in a row at two of the current Cup venues.

Q: Do you think Johnson will go for the jugular and try to win his fifth consecutive race at Miami-Homestead? Or will he just coast home for a 10th-to-15th place finish and a Cup title?Rush Rocket

A: “You’ve got to have four before you can get to five.”

Those were Johnson’s words after crawling out of the car last week in Phoenix. Everyone wants to see Team Lowe’s go for broke, attempting to set a modern era record of five straight wins and at the same time win a championship in the final race of the year. Even Chad Knaus:

“We’ll go with the same mentality. There’s no stress right now. We’re always pushing, always trying to make our racecar go faster. I want to be the faster car at the racetrack every single weekend. I won’t change that.”

Let’s hope they don’t have a change of heart, because going all-out is what racing, at its core, is all about. Regardless of what the duo say, though, I think the car and the racing conditions will rule their strategy. Knaus is just too good to let a title slip away by doing something stupid. Then again, they are bringing the same car that won at Atlanta and Texas…

There is ample room below; what would you all do?

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