RACERS, BY NATURE, want to lead every lap and win every race. Sprint Cup series racers have learned, however, that sitting atop the points standings after 26 races is not the most important factor. Making the Chase for the Championship field is their top priority.

Thank you, Tony Stewart.

Last year, Stewart was 0-for-26 prior to the Chase. Then he won five of the 10 Chase races to edge Carl Edwards for the title.

"Tony Stewart showed us last year it's not what you do the first 26 races; it's what you do the last 10," Edwards said Tuesday following the Team Dover-Team Pocono softball game at Campbell's Field in Camden. "He wasn't even on the radar the first 26 races.

"We all recognize there are two seasons within a season. It's a different mentality for race car drivers and NASCAR historically. We're used to racing all season [with] every point counting."

Edwards is 10th in points, 74 behind leader Greg Biffle.

"I think the Chase is very good for the sport," Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford, said. "There are 12 guys that have a legitimate shot at winning the championship. The sponsors [and] fans are excited, all the drivers and teams that make it are excited."

With 15 Cup races remaining before the Chase begins, drivers are positioning themselves to secure a place in the top 10 in points. Two wild cards complete the 12-driver Chase field: two drivers with the most wins outside the top 10 qualify for the Chase provided they are in the top 20 in points.

Jeff Burton is still hoping to be a Chaser. Burton is 17th in points, 62 out of 10th place. Burton and his No. 31 Chevrolet team are making progress correcting the problems that led to his 20th-place points finish last year.

"It's going to be a climb; you don't jump out of the hole, you have to climb out," Burton said following the softball game. "Our short-track program [and] superspeedway programs are OK, but our mile-and-a-half programs are not.

"My career has cycled a little more than some other people's has. I have to take some blame for that. Sports are up and down, but our downs are too low.

"There's enough time for us [to make the Chase], but we've got to run better. We have to start managing races to put ourselves in position to win."

Burton, winner of 21 career Cup races, has missed the Chase 2 of the past 3 years.

The upcoming Dover and Pocono races will help determine the Chase field. The FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks is at the Delaware speedway June 3; the Pocono 400 is June 10.

Captains Carl, Jeff

Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton were captains for the Dover-Pocono softball game. While playing second base for their respective teams each seemed to enjoy the game and interacting with fans.

With yours truly coaching first base, Team Dover seized an 8-0 lead. Then Team Pocono resorted to some shady "recruiting", using two Camden Riversharks players and rallied to win, 9-8. As one disgruntled Dover player said, "It's NASCAR. If you're not cheatin' you're not tryin'."

Kurt needs a vacation?

Kurt Busch sounds like a guy who needs a month or two away from racing. Remember when he said joining the No. 51 Chevy team would make racing "fun" again?

Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation through July 25 for reckless driving on pit road late in last Saturday night's race at Darlington. Busch sped through Ryan Newman's pit. Later, Busch was confronted by Andy Rueger, a Newman crew member.

After a flat tire spoiled his Darlington race, Busch was heard swearing on his radio. "I hate my bleepin' job," was one of his angry comments. His profanity-laced outburst toward a television reporter after last year's season finale led to his dismissal from Penske Racing. n

Contact Bill Fleischman at fleiscb@phillynews.com