Pole-sitter Carl Edwards doesn't need a win Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but it would certainly alleviate any pressure heading into the first elimination race of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With the exception of Martin Truex Jr., who won the playoff opener last week at Chicagoland Speedway, the remaining 15 Chase drivers know they can assure themselves a spot in the quarterfinal round by winning the Bad Boy Off Road 300, therefore not have to concern themselves where they finish next weekend at Dover International Speedway, a track nicknamed the "Monster" for its well-founded reputation for chewing up cars.
Edwards knows what potential trouble awaits at Dover. He was contending for the win in the spring race when contact with Kyle Larson sent him crashing with 40 laps remaining. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver went from thinking of performing his celebratory backflip to having to undergo a medical evaluation.
"Chicago was frustrating and I was real upset about it for about a day," said Edwards, who finished 15th. "If we have a bad day here, I'm going to be real upset about it for about three or four days. Then, if you have a bad day at Dover, you're going to be upset for the rest of the year."
Even if a win isn't obtainable, for some drivers a good finish Sunday would go a long way to solidifying their playoff advancement. Joey Logano is fully cognizant that a runner-up at New Hampshire like the one he had at Chicagoland will make Dover entirely manageable.
"If something happens, something happens and we'll approach Dover in a different way," Logano said. "But, right now, let's go out here and if we can win the race, let's win the race. If not, let's try to top-five it and that will give us a good sense of security heading into Dover."
"The pressure is probably the same as what it was in Chicago. We just have to do what we know how to do."
The emphasis on wanting to avoid being on the bubble entering an elimination event is attributed to why the middle race of each three-race segment has often proven to be the most tumultuous since NASCAR unveiled the knockout Chase format prior to the 2014 season.
That several Chase drivers had substandard finishes at Chicagoland only heightens the significance of needing a good result on Sunday. In addition to Edwards, others who underwhelmed a week ago include: Jimmie Johnson (finished 12th), Kurt Busch (13th), Austin Dillon (14th), Tony Stewart (16th), Kyle Larson (18th), and Kevin Harvick (20th).
"We will be aggressive the next two weeks. As aggressive as we can, aggressively smart," Dillon said. "I think two top-10 finishes will give us a great shot to move to the next round. That is what we want to do so we can regroup. I feel like we've got a good shot the next two weeks."
Dillon's optimism was stunted some after a wreck in Friday practice heavily damaged his primary No. 3 car, requiring a move to a backup Chevrolet for the remainder of the weekend.
In all likelihood Dillon will need either to find some speed or have an unusual set of circumstances unfold where he's the beneficiary to avoid going into Dover facing a must-win scenario.
"We'll try to figure it out as a team," he said. "And we'll work hard as a team and won't give up."
BAD BOY OFF ROAD 300 STARTING LINEUP
|2||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||135.212|
|21||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||133.031|