Richmond II: Series round 26 preview

* Two Chase Spots Up For Grabs At Richmond * Clinched: A Look At The 2010 Chase Drivers Who Are In * Loop Data: Chase Momentum Starts This Week For Hamlin 10 Are In: Remaining Two Chase Berths Determined At Richmond With this Saturday's Air ...

* Two Chase Spots Up For Grabs At Richmond
* Clinched: A Look At The 2010 Chase Drivers Who Are In
* Loop Data: Chase Momentum Starts This Week For Hamlin

10 Are In: Remaining Two Chase Berths Determined At Richmond

With this Saturday's Air Guard 400 the final race before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, 10 drivers have locked themselves in to compete for the 2010 series title. The remaining two drivers will race their way into the Chase by the end of Saturday night's race at Richmond ... The top 10 drivers in the standings heading into Richmond already are assured Chase berths ... more on them later. Let's take a closer look at the candidates are for the final two spots:

* Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) -- Currently in 11th, Biffle has 161-point lead over 13th-place Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet). Regardless of any other driver's finish, Biffle will clinch if he finishes 42nd or better or if he leads at least one lap. His previous best season finish is second in 2005, the second year of the Chase.

* Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) -- Currently holding down the 12th-place position, Bowyer has a 117-point advantage over Newman. Bowyer needs to do one of the following to secure his third Chase berth: finish 28th or better, finish 29th, and lead at least one lap, or finish 31st and lead the most laps. Bowyer finished a career-high third in the 2007 final standings.

* Ryan Newman -- Currently 13th and 117 points out of 12th, Newman must depend on the misfortune of others to qualify for his fourth Chase. His best career season finish is sixth in 2002-03 and 2005.

* Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) -- Currently 14th and 128 points behind Bowyer. This would be McMurray's first Chase berth and the icing to an already successful season, highlighted by his Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victories.

* Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) -- Currently 15th and 147 points out of 12th, Martin was the Cinderella story of 2009, as he led the standings during the regular season and equaled his career-best finish of second. Martin has made the Chase four times.

Since the Chase's inception, 2004, the largest point deficit made up in the cutoff race at Richmond is 55. Jeremy Mayfield made up 55 points after winning the 2004 race at Richmond to qualify for the Chase.

So it's no secret that Newman, McMurray and Martin have a tall order ahead of them.

Seedings / Bonus Points Still On The Line At Richmond

Following Saturday's race at Richmond, the 12 Chase drivers are seeded according to the number of wins they accrued in the season's first 26 races. Each win is worth 10 points. Tiebreakers are based upon drivers' next -- best finishes in the current season..

Currently, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) lead the way with five wins and 50 bonus points each. Johnson would win the tie-breaker for the No. 1 seed because he has more third--place finishes. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) and Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) are next with three wins and 30 bonus points each.

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) has two wins and 20 bonus points, while Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) and Ryan Newman have one win and 10 bonus points each. So the 10 bonus points still available Saturday night could play a key role in the final seedings for the Chase.

For instance, Hamlin is the defending Richmond race winner. Another win would secure the top spot in the standings for the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

A Look At The Top 10 Who Have Clinched: The Best Of The Best

The 10 drivers who have secured spots in the 2010 Chase field can certainly be labeled "the best of the best." Collectively, they've won 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and six Daytona 500 titles. All 10 drivers have been in the Chase multiple times, including four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, who has qualified for the Chase all seven years of its existence - the only driver to do so.

A closer look:

* Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet)
- A leading candidate for Comeback Driver of the Year.
- Standings leader for most of the season with three wins.
- Has led the charge for the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing in 2010.
- A championship for RCR would be Childress' first since the late Dale Earnhardt won it in 1994.
- Has qualified for four of the seven Chases, with a career best finish of fourth in 2006 and 2008.

* Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
- Contending for his fifth series championship, which would rank second all-time behind Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt (both with seven).
- Won titles in 1995, '97, '98 and 2001.
- Has made the Chase six of its seven years, missing out in 2005.
- Leads all active series drivers with 82 wins.

* Kyle Busch ( No. 18 M&M's Toyota)
- 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, competing for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
- Has three wins in 2010.
- Has made four of the last five Chases, with his best finish (fifth) coming in 2007.

* Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet)
- Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion (2002, '05).
- Coming off a win at Atlanta last weekend.
- Has made six of seven Chases, missing out in 2006.

* Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford)
- Winless since 2008 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
- 2007 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion.
- Has made five of six Chases he has been eligible for. His best finish of second came in 2008.

* Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
- Along with Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, has been key in the resurgence of RCR.
- Has been a part of four of seven Chases.
- Career best season finish is third (2000), with his best Chase performance coming in 2008 (sixth)

* Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)
- Has won four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, unprecedented in the sport's history.
- 2009 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
- The only driver to qualify for all seven of the Chase competitions.

* Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
- His 2004 series championship was the first under the Chase format.
- Has been in five of seven year Chases.
- Has two wins in 2010.

* Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford)
- The 2003 series champion and the last under the former points structure.
- 2009 was the first year he did not qualify for the Chase.

* Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota)
- His five wins in 2010 tied him with Jimmie Johnson for the most in the series.
- He's rebounded from knee surgery earlier this season.
- Defending race champion at Richmond, his hometown track.
- Has made the Chase five consecutive years, with his career-best finishes of fourth coming in 2006 and 2008.

In The Loop: Momentum Starts At Richmond For Hamlin

The frustration has bubbled over in Denny Hamlin.

He had a strong -- and possibly winning -- car under him at Atlanta last Sunday night, but his engine failed him. It blew up, and he finished last. It was just the fourth time in his career that he finished 43rd.

Prior to the event, Hamlin talked about setting up for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins in two weeks. He wanted to have momentum rolling into the Chase's first race, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Right now, he has anything but momentum.

Three of his last four finishes have looked like this: 37th at Watkins Glen, 34th at Bristol and 43rd at Atlanta. The lone bright spot was a runner-up at Michigan.

Over that four-race span, Hamlin's in-race statistics were not as bad as his finishes would suggest. He had a Driver Rating of 84.7, an Average Running Position of 19.6, 86 Laps Led, and 41 Fastest Laps Run.

But one race, the next race, can cure all those ills. And luckily for Hamlin, that race takes place in Richmond, Va., near his hometown of Chesterfield, Va. The track is a Hamlin favorite.

Hamlin finally won his Holy Grail race last September, and did it in dominant fashion. Statistically, it was perfect.

Last year, Hamlin led 299 of the 400 laps, posting a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0. He had an Average Running Position of 1.3, 108 Fastest Laps Run and ran all 400 laps inside the top 15.

In fact, he never fell below third place.

In nine Richmond races, Hamlin has four top fives and five top 10s. His average finish is an impressive 8.8, his Driver Rating is a series-high 117.4 and his Average Running Position is a series high 5.5.

Even his clunkers are impressive. Most memorable was probably the May race in 2008, when Hamlin led an astounding 381 laps. Only a blown tire could stop him that night, and it did. Hamlin finished 24th. Still, his Driver Rating was a race-best 129.1.Average Finish In Race To The Chase

Denny Hamlin wants momentum going into the Chase. Thus far, he hasn't found it. In the first nine races in the Race to the Chase, Hamlin ranks 23rd in average finish among drivers who competed in all nine races.

On The Line: Mark Martin

Mark Martin was the guest on Tuesday's NASCAR Teleconference. Following are excepts:

Q. Do you think it's going to be interesting this weekend with all the people racing with their different agendas?

MARTIN: "Yeah, you know, it will be. But to me, it's always interesting. Racing always is. Every race is interesting, fascinating to me. But there will be different agendas. I've always been on the end of protection mode to some degree. I've always had something to protect.

"And these next 11 races are going to put me in a different position. And that might be interesting to me, because I can race each race with not so much to lose and everything to gain.

"And I've been in the other shoes every other time that I can think of. I know in '07 and '08 I didn't run a full schedule, but we still had to watch ourselves pretty close because our car ran full time with Regan Smith or Aric Almirola.

"So it's going to be very interesting. Racing always is."

Q. Has the drama and intensity gone up in the races as of late? Does the competition seem to be turning it on earlier in the race?

MARTIN: "It's backing up from the finish of the race more and more all the time. The intensity backs up further and further into the race, or earlier and earlier, that gets started. Even the green flag of a 500-miler today is really intense, way more intense than it ever was when I got started in NASCAR. There's no comparison.

"So the racing is always more intense and, of course, it builds the further you go along, and when these guys think that they've had their last pit stop, it really goes through the roof.

"So I don't know. I love the sport. I'm as big a fan as there is out there. So like I say, every race is interesting to me."

Q. Can you talk about your feelings in regards to the championship and maybe not letting it be the be the all end all consuming thing for you?

MARTIN: "When I look back on it, I've been very, very fortunate to have been incredibly successful at doing what I have passion for and love. And I'm no champion. I'm just lucky I got to win a pile of races. I'm no champion.

"I haven't earned the right to be in that category or to stand beside those guys. But at the same time I'm proud that I made them work for it and I saw them finish behind me many times. And that I can be proud of. And I think that there's a measure to every human being. There's different ways you measure success.

"And if you're a race car driver, points is one of those measurements. But it is not the only measuring stick there is. But it is certainly one of them. And I don't measure up in that category."

NSCS Etc.: Richmond International Raceway

Drivers To Watch At Richmond -- Kyle Busch has the second best Driver Rating (114.1) at RIR. Busch has won twice at RIR, including the first race there this spring. His Average Green Flag Speed (117.104) is also second best on the circuit ...Kevin Harvick is another driver to keep an eye on this weekend. He has the third best Driver Rating (114.0) and the second highest Average Running Position of 6.8. Harvick has one victory, five top five and 12 top-10 finishes at RIR ... While Jimmie Johnson has won three out of the last six races at RIR, some of his statistical data might not support his potential for success there. His Driver Rating (87.0) is only 12th best and he has an Average Finish of 17.8.

Trending Recent Performances -- If last Saturday proves to be a good recipe for success, then Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) and Tony Stewart have to be considered serious challengers for the 2010 championship. While he's still winless on the season, Edwards has racked up 1,356 points over the past nine events during the "Race to the Chase," the most of any driver. Stewart is next with 1,319 points. During that stretch Edwards has also compiled five top five finishes (tied with Stewart) and seven top-10 finishes (also tied with Stewart). Stewart's momentum was fueled by his win last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, marking his first win since last October at Kansas Speedway. Edwards finished second.

"America's Premier Short Track" Geared Up For Big Weekend -- Richmond International Raceway's 0.75-mile oval is recognized as one of NASCAR's most tradition-rich facilities. Lee Petty won the first NASCAR "Grand National Division" race held at RIR in 1953. The track began hosting two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events each season in 1959 and has done so ever since. Richard Petty won the first of his track record 13 races in 1961 ... On Saturday at the Scott's Turf Builder Green Flag Zone, fans will have the opportunity to hear from Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford), Jack Roush, Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge), Ryan Newman and Hermie Sadler ... Rock and roll icons "Night Ranger" will play a pre-race concert starting at 5:45 p.m. Saturday. at the start finish line. The Air Guard 400 will mark the 109th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at RIR. Only Daytona (127), Martinsville (122) and Darlington (110) have hosted more points-paying events and only Martinsville (1949) and Darlington (1950) have hosted series races longer than Richmond ... The NASCAR Foundation Track Walk Presented by Kroger, in partnership with Richmond International Raceway CARES, benefiting Paralyzed Veterans of America, hits the track on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. For an advance donation of $30 ($35 on race day), fans can walk the track and will have access to an exclusive Q&A session prior to the walk, featuring Richard Petty, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger. To register, log on to the foundation at NASCAR.com.

Richmond Pays Homage To 9/11 This Weekend -- Richmond's NASCAR race weekend will have an Armed Services theme, in recognition of 9/11. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has partnered with RIR as presenting sponsor, including the Air Guard 400 on Saturday night and Friday's NASCAR Nationwide Series. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, passed by Congress in 2008, provides financial support for education and housing to veteran service men and women and allows every eligible veteran, service member, reservist and National Guard member an opportunity to receive undergraduate and graduate degrees ... On Aug. 4, RIR track president Doug Fritz, and MSgt. Matt Leas, a representative of the Air Guard, participated in a skydiving event to help announce the sponsorship of the Sept. 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup race. The Air Guard allows Americans to serve part-time and provides flexibility in their service requirements. With more than 140 units nationwide, Air Guard members can serve their country in the communities they live in. As part of a host of pre-race activities to commemorate Sept. 11, RIR is providing all fans who enter the grandstand gates with an American flag to wave during the National Anthem. Boy Scouts, celebrating their organization's 100th anniversary, will distribute the flags, which are provided courtesy of Virginia 529 College Savings Plan.

Up Next: New Hampshire

The 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup gets underway at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday, Sept. 19 with the running of the Sylvania 300. At 1 p.m. ET (ESPN). Mark Martin is the defending race winner, while Juan Pablo Montoya won last year's Coors Light Pole Award. Jeff Burton is the all-time winner at New Hampshire with four victories. Jimmie Johnson,

Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon all have won three times at New Hampshire.

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Air Guard 400
The Place: Richmond International Raceway (0.75-miie paved)

The Date: Saturday, Sept. 11
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 300 miles / 400 laps

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Mark Martin
2009 Winner: Denny Hamlin

Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Friday--Practice, 12-2 p.m. and 2:45-3:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 5:40 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Richard Childress Racing