Just two races remain before NASCAR's top teams begin the Chase for the Championship, and Pennsylvania native Bob Osborne will once again be in the thick of things as the final ten races decide the 2010 Cup crown.
As the crew chief of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, Osborne, a 1997 Penn State grad, has been part of the Chase every year since teaming up with Carl Edwards in 2005. He says he likes the Chase format, in spite of Jimmy Johnson's four-year domination of the championship.
"It's pretty amazing what those guys have been able to do in the 48," he commented during a phone interview from North Carolina. "It makes us work that much harder."
Under the old point system, Osborne's team would have actually won the 2008 Cup Championship with a 16-point advantage over Jimmy Johnson. Still, Osborne likes the challenge to be consistent throughout the season, and the added excitement down the stretch.
"You used to be able to nickel and dime your way to a championship," he said. "The Chase changes that. You have to run well all year to get into the Chase, and then you have to race to win and have no major catastrophes."
With a 12th-place finish Saturday night at Bristol, Carl Edwards and company picked up two more spots in the point standings, landing fourth. Osborne has a legitimate shot at the title.
Under the previous system, the Championship would already be decided. Kevin Harvick's lead would be virtually insurmountable.
While this time of the season is pressure-packed for teams in contention, there is much more than rivalries throughout the garage and pits. NASCAR teams enjoy a unique camaraderie.
Unlike most sports, these teams don't battle one opponent each week, they can compete against 40 or more. At the same time, this large number of competitors shares a common bond: the grueling NASCAR lifestyle.
Cup teams and their families may be the only ones who can appreciate the inconvenient travel, the constant demands from sponsors, media and fans, and the day-to-day challenges of one of the world's most dangerous sports, and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Those common threads create unique bonds between teams who on one hand are ferociously competitive, and on the other are unfailingly supportive of one another.
"Everyone knows everyone, and if someone is struggling, we give them parts, whatever they need," said Osborne. "Anybody in the garage is extremely willing to help, just to give each other a hand."
Edwards' team under Osborne has picked up five spots in the standings in the last two races.
Like a famous football coach at his alma mater, Osborne tackles the race schedule week by week.
Next up, trips to Atlanta and Richmond before the Chase begins Sept. 19th at Louden.
Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.