RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 2, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch says he expects Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 to be a "going-all-out battle" for all but a handful of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers and teams. "Since it's the final...
RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 2, 2008) - Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch says he expects Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 to be a "going-all-out battle" for all but a handful of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers and teams. "Since it's the final race before the Chase, all eyes will be focused on the guys running back there in about ninth through 14th in the points and trying to get locked in," said Busch. "I know what those guys are going through right now and, as tormenting as it can be, I certainly wish I was one of them. There's a ton of pressure and it'll be building up on them mentally through this week and all the way up till race time.
"It's even tighter this year around the cut-off spot than it was last season," said Busch. "We came into that race 11th in points and had a 12-point buffer on 12th-place (Kevin) Harvick. But we really had a lot of breathing room back to 13th. We were something like 140 points (actually 141 points) ahead of (Dale) Earnhardt Jr."
Heading into this weekend's Richmond race, the 26th race and final event of the "regular season," Clint Bowyer holds down the 12th and final "Chase-eligible" spot with 2,989 points. David Ragan is 13th with 2,972 points and on the outside looking in. Kasey Kahne is 14th with 2,941. Going into Saturday night's "showdown," Bowyer holds a 17-point advantage over Ragan and he has a 48-point lead over Kahne.
"Realistically, there are about five or six guys who are on pins and needles right now," said Busch. "For the other 38 drivers and teams, it'll be a big going-all-out battle. Those guys in, say from first through about eighth-place in the points, they are locked in. They'll be racing their guts out in trying to win and get those bonus points given for wins at the start of the Chase.
"Then you'll have the group that we unfortunately fall into. That's the guys out there who are out of the Chase and not concerned about points at all. There are a ton of teams like us that will be hoping to play the spoilers and grab the headlines away from the others by sneaking in there and winning.
"The fact that it's an impound race this weekend certainly will add to the suspense," Busch offered. "You can't afford to be too conservative in qualifying. Starting in the back of the pack or getting shuffled back for one reason or another could lead to big problems.
"We saw from experience there in the spring race that it's possible with the new cars to see a multi-car Talladega-style pileup on that track. We crashed out of the May race at Richmond in a wreck that involved a quarter of the field."
Busch, the 2004 series champ and winner of the first title in the current Chase format, looked at the current point standings and gave his commentary entering Richmond.
"I honestly see the guys back to say (Tony) Stewart, back in eighth, not really concerned at all as for who's behind them," said Busch of two-time champion Stewart, currently 138 points ahead of 13th-place Ragan. "I see all eight of those guys throwing everything at it that they can from the drop of the green flag to win. It's like gravy for those guys in adding to the bonus points. We finished 10th in the regular points last year, but after adding the bonus points, we were tied for fourth at the start of the Chase.
"Looking on back, it gets a little stickier back there where Matt (Kenseth) is in 10th," said Busch. "He's got a big enough cushion (109 points ahead of 13th) to not be sweating it too bad right now. I'd have to lump Jeff (Gordon, 102 points ahead of 13th) and probably Denny (Hamlin, 93 points ahead of 13th) into that group, too. Their strategy will probably see them start out a little on the conservative side. They'll just take it easy and go with the flow for the first 200 or 250 laps, not pushing it too hard or chancing anything. When it's evident that they're locked in, their crew chiefs will let them know and then they'll run as hard as they can for the remainder of the race.
"Then there's those guys running 12th, 13th and 14th in the points - (Clint) Bowyer, (David) Ragan and Kasey (Kahne)," said Busch as he analyzed the numbers. "Chances are that their crew chiefs will already have had to take more than their share of antacids heading into the weekend. When there are only 48 points separating 12th to 14th and only 12 guys make it, it's easy to see just how much pressure is on all of them.
"Those guys will be keeping an eye on each other from the time the teams start unloading their cars all the way through Saturday night," added Busch. "The drivers will try to stay level-headed and the crew chiefs will try to keep them calm. There's a lot of psychology involved, whether they want to admit it or not. They'll keep close tabs on each other all the way through practice and qualifying.
"When the green flag drops, all three teams will likely have personnel scanning the others' radio frequencies and keeping a super close watch on the other teams. They will probably have a guy designated to do nothing but keep a running tally on how the points are stacking up. Their spotters will all be worn out by the end of the race as they'll be busier than they've been all year long.
"For the guys who make the cut, it'll be like the highest of highs," said Busch. "On the other end, there won't be anyone more dejected at Richmond on Saturday night as the driver and crew members on that 13th-place points team. They'll likely try to stay as upbeat as they can, but there's no way to be in that spot and not be disappointed and just totally heartbroken."
This weekend's action at Richmond International Raceway gets under way with Sprint Cup practice on Friday from 11:00 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Saturday's 43-car starting field will be determined in Friday's 6:10 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying. All cars will be impounded after qualifying and there will be no additional practice. Saturday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 (400 laps/300 miles) is set for a 7:30 p.m. EDT start. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.
--Kurt, Pat and crew will be racing their "PSC-574" Miller Lite Dodge Charger at Richmond International Raceway this weekend. This is the car that Kurt debuted in winning fashion at the June 29 Lenox Tools 301 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Kurt started 26th and won on strategy and fuel mileage in the rain-shortened event, scoring Kurt's 18th career win. That race was the only outing for this car to date.