The top six driver in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series points have clinched their eligibility to compete in the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup". But, when the green flag drops at Richmond International Raceway, no less than nine drivers will be clawing for a place in the top ten.
Two drivers, Kevin Harvick and Bobby Labonte, are especially anxious to regain their spots within the top contenders, after having dropped out contention due to poor runs at California Speedway.
Harvick finished 28th, and fell seven spots to 15th, some 56 points behind 10th places Mark Martin. It was truly disappointing for the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, who has been the only RCR car anywhere near the top ten all season.
"The car just got loose there at the end and I couldn't pick up any spots," Harvick commented on his run. "We had a pretty good car all day and had good pit stops, but our motor just wasn't good."
Labonte garnered a 20th place result, and also skidded out of the top ten in standings. He fell three positions to 12th, 36 markers shy of 10th spot.
"We fell out of the top 10 and that's frustrating, but we've still got one more race to try and get back in (to the Chase)," Labonte said. "It's tough, but that's where we're at. We'll do our best to get back in at Richmond."
Their loss was Kasey Kahne and Martin's gain, as both drivers climbed into 'chase' positions. Kahne's second place finish, catapulted him from 11th to 9th; and Martin's third place sent him from 12th to 10th.
"Everybody has been within just a few points there," said Kahne. "I know Jamie gained some good points there, and Mark Martin is right there. I'm there, Jeremy, Ryan Newman, we'll see what happens. It'll be exciting. It's going to be that final finish that decides the top 10."
The night race at Richmond has been highly anticipated all season as the 'Chase' comes down to the wire. With just 56 points separating spots 10 through 15, the traditional bumping and banging associated with Richmond sets the stage for an exciting finish to NASCAR's first split season.