2014 Camping World RV Sales 301: Chase for the Sprint Cup clock ticking ever loudly

Chris Trotman

With just eight regular season races remaining, the pressure to get into the Chase is intensifying.

Throughout the week, the talk has centered on the newly formed Race Team Alliance, revenue sharing, potential labor strife and very little pertaining to action on the track.

That changes Sunday with the RV Camping World Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Just eight races remain in the regular season and the pressure to win continues to amplify as entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup becoming less accessible. A victory by Aric Almirola last week at Daytona International Speedway means 11 of 16 playoff slots have been virtually filled.

Bad news for the likes Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart -- all former Chase qualifiers who are still in search of their first 2014 victory. Yet despite the increasing pressure, New Hampshire does provide some solace to each of the above names: They all have been victorious at the "Magic Mile" within the past six years.

"We've proven to ourselves that we can win here and we had a great test here a few weeks ago, so I really look forward to it," said Vickers, who won this race last year, on Friday. "But in our sport no matter how fast your car is, no matter how comfortable you are on the race track, there's a lot of things that are out of your control."

Winning isn't a prerequisite to make the postseason, as a high points finish will likely be enough for a couple of drivers to sneak in. A favorable scenario for Kenseth, ranked fifth in the standing; not so for Vickers (17th), Kahne (18th) and Stewart (20th).

Which is why winning is the most conventional way to get in.

"There's certainly pressure to win," Vickers said. "We were in the Chase for a long time via points and we just had a few bad weeks and now we're not. There's still that possibility and that's something we're not going to lose sight of, but a win would solve both problems and that's what we're focused on.

"Unfortunately, there's like 42 other guys that are focused on it too so that's what makes it challenging."

"It would be nice to get a win soon for sure. ... It makes you stress out coming here to New Hampshire hoping that you get a good finish." -Kyle Larson

And veterans aren't the only ones feeling the pressure to win.

Three weeks ago, Kyle Larson was in the midst of a standout freshman season, sitting a solid seventh in points. Then he hit a rough patch with finishes of 28th, 40th and 36th in subsequent races, dropping Larson 10 positions in the standings.

Larson's playoff hopes are not extinguished by any means. A turnaround to his earlier season form, however, is an absolute must if he is to become the first rookie since Denny Hamlin in 2006 to make the Chase.

"(Making the Chase) was looking great up until now," Larson said. "It makes you stress out a little bit just because each week it gets closer and closer to the Chase. Now we have fallen to where we have to fight really hard again. It makes it nerve racking.

"It would be nice to get a win soon for sure," Larson said. "... It makes you stress out coming here to New Hampshire hoping that you get a good finish."

Underscoring the importance of running well Sunday, the teams of Kahne, Vickers, Bowyer, Newman and Larson all used one of their allotted four tests last month at New Hampshire. It's a decision that paid dividends with all but Newman qualifying better than 20th.

"I feel like any time we've gone to a track to test we usually race pretty good," Larson said. "At Pocono we went there and tested and ran fifth. Any time you go to test somewhere you gain some confidence going back because you know your car is going to be better than had you not spent 300 laps on the track already."

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