Richmond II: Round 26 preview

* Longshot Chase Chances Not Affecting Earnhardt's Focus * This Week It's All About Winning -- And Chase Seeding * ABC Returns To NASCAR, Broadcasting RIR & Chase Races * Below The Radar But No Less Intense: Battle For Top 35 Spots Do The Math:...

* Longshot Chase Chances Not Affecting Earnhardt's Focus
* This Week It's All About Winning -- And Chase Seeding
* ABC Returns To NASCAR, Broadcasting RIR & Chase Races
* Below The Radar But No Less Intense: Battle For Top 35 Spots

Do The Math: Earnhardt Has, And He Isn't Conceding Anything

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 4, 2007) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) still has a shot to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. A longshot, granted. And so he rolls into Richmond International Raceway this week on a wing, a prayer -- and a vow.

"I want [our fans and sponsors] to know that no matter what, me and the team are giving everything we got," Earnhardt said. "We're not going to lose focus or give up or pack it in."

Earnhardt is 13th in series points coming into Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400, 128 behind 12th-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Pennzoil Platinum Chevrolet).

The top eight drivers in the current points have clinched Chase spots. Drivers in ninth and 10th place must only start on Saturday night to clinch.

The lowest Earnhardt can finish at Richmond is fifth to still have a chance at making the Chase. The two caveats to that scenario: He must also lead the most laps and Harvick has to finish 43rd.

He can also finish fourth and lead one lap, or finish third and lead no laps and still qualify -- as long as Harvick finishes last.

On the other end of the spectrum, if Earnhardt wins Saturday night and leads the most laps, he'll clinch a spot if Harvick finishes 33rd or worse OR if Kurt Busch finishes 37th or worse. If Earnhardt wins but doesn't lead the most laps, he'll need a Harvick finish of 34th or lower OR a Busch finish of 39th or lower.

"Even though we have a mathematical chance to get into the Chase, we're going to worry about things within our own control," Earnhardt said. "Let's lead all the laps and win the thing."

Race To The Chase, Round 10: It's All About The Seedings

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) has the potential top seed for the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, by virtue of his series-high fifth victory of the year this past Sunday at California Speedway. Johnson is thus poised to be the poster boy for this season's altered Chase format that has placed extra emphasis on race victories.

Drivers who qualify for the Chase have their point totals reset to 5,000. They then get 10 bonus points for each victory during the 26 events pre-Chase. Those adjusted point totals determine "seedings" to start the Chase.

Johnson is sixth in the series points this week. But he'll jump to first in the standings when the Chase starts provided Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont-Nicorette Chevrolet), who has four race wins, doesn't get a fifth at Richmond. If Gordon wins at RIR, the traditional tiebreak method (comparing drivers' finishes beyond first place) will give him the top Chase seed and bump Johnson to second.

Seed spotlight: Six drivers in the top 12 go into RIR with one win each. If someone in that group wins Saturday, they'll be seeded no worse than sixth.

Top 13 Total 13 Wins At RIR

Chances are you'll be familiar with whoever wins this week at Richmond International Raceway. Coming into Saturday night, the top-13 drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings have racked up a total of 13 wins at RIR. With so much on the line, figure the trend to continue.

First, there's the battle among the "bubble" drivers: Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge). Undoubtedly, all three will be vying for the win and lap-leading bonus points. There are five RIR wins among that group, with Earnhardt leading the pack with three.

Then there's the seeding battle.

Jimmie Johnson, though sixth in the series standings, launched himself to the top of the potential bonus points standings with his win at California this past weekend. He now has five wins on the season, which translates to 50 bonus points.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, the only driver who can catch Johnson, has 40 bonus points. If Gordon wins, he'd grab the top seed in the Chase. Though he would have an equal amount of bonus points as Johnson, Gordon has more second-place finishes (four to zero). Johnson won at Richmond in May, while Gordon has two career Richmond wins.

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) also could be in the mix. A Richmond winner three times, another win would put Stewart in a tie with Gordon for bonus points. Stewart, with three wins, has 30 bonus points.

Then there's hometown hero Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet). While teammate Stewart has always called Indianapolis Motor Speedway his "Holy Grail" race, Hamlin, from nearby Chesterfield, says the same about Richmond. He has a 111.3 Driver Rating and an average finish of 6.7 at the .75-mile track.

Finally, in what shouldn't be a forgotten storyline, Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/Cheez-It Chevrolet) and Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) look for their first career Richmond wins. Busch has finished in the top five in all five of his RIR starts, averaging a finish of 3.4.

Bowyer actually looks for much more than his first Richmond win -- he's aiming for his first career win. His Richmond numbers are encouraging; in three RIR starts he has an average finish of 10.3.

On The Air: Old Friends Reunite As NASCAR Returns to ABC Network

The years may have passed, but the memories remain classic.

In the 1960s, the ABC television network helped introduce a then-fledgling sport known as NASCAR to a curious American public. So colorful when viewed live, NASCAR turned out to be just as entertaining in black-and-white -- which is what many TVs provided in the '60s.

Starting in 1961, ABC, via selected live race broadcasts and portions of other events shown on its popular "Wide World of Sports" program, helped introduce NASCAR overall and its stars specifically. Richard Petty and Fireball Roberts, David Pearson and Bobby Isaac -- just a few of the names who streaked across America's screens in those days.

As the years passed, NASCAR's popularity grew and ABC remained in the mix, with several selected race broadcasts each season. ABC's last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series broadcast was the 2000 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Saturday night marks a reunion.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing returns to the ABC network, with the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway -- the final event in the "Race to the Chase." ABC will also broadcast all 10 races of the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" starting with the Sept. 16 event at New Hampshire International Speedway and ending with the season finale Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In the old days -- which were definitely good ones -- fans got lap-by-lap descriptions from Jim McKay, Bill Fleming and inimitable racer-turned-commentator Jackie Stewart.

In 2007, at a time when NASCAR racing is better than ever, ABC is rolling out a broadcast team led by former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Rusty Wallace; the long-respected announcer Dr. Jerry Punch; former team owner and crew chief Andy Petree; veteran mainstream TV sports broadcaster Brent Musberger, who will serve as show host; and Suzy Kolber, heading the pre-race show. This is the same group who have been bringing NASCAR action to fans all season on ESPN.

Sports programming on ABC is officially called "ESPN on ABC." It's a blend of tradition and new talent/technology -- and will be on full display starting Saturday night at Richmond.

Take Ownership: Another Battle Brews Outside the Chase

While the obvious focus over the next 11 weeks will be on the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, for many teams a battle just as intense will be waged, in the neighborhood of a position 23 spots below the Chase cut-off point.

We're talking about 35th place in the series' car owner standings -- something highly significant. Each week, the top 35 teams in those standings are guaranteed starting spots. Teams outside the top 35 must rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

Wood Brothers/JTG Racing enlisted the skills of future Hall of Famer Bill Elliott this year, to keep their No. 21 Ford entry among the top 35. The plan has worked nicely. Elliott's 26th-place finish this past Sunday at California Speedway nudged the No. 21 into 35th. Nonetheless, it's a precarious place; the 36th-place team -- the No. 22 Toyota of Bill Davis Racing (with Dave Blaney driving) is only four points behind.

"Getting back into the top 35 was a real blessing to us," said Elliott. "To the fans, it might mean to them that we're guaranteed that spot we need to start the race, but for the team, it pays a whole lot more benefits than that. First, we'll get to use our Friday practice session to work on the race setup, instead of focusing on qualifying. Before, we'd have to divide our time and hope for the best. We'll have more of an advantage this week than we usually do so I'm hoping we can make the most of it."

Keys To Victory

The "perfect" track.

It's a label that at some point attached itself to Richmond International Raceway quite securely, a label that perhaps has much to do with atmosphere as asphalt.

Granted, the three-quarters-mile oval seems "just right." It combines the short-track elements of a Bristol with the fast-track feel of a 1.5-mile layout. Bottom line: It's the ultimate "tweener."

As far as what's required to handle such perfection, read on.

* Take care of your car. There is multi-lane racing, so don't get caught up in a multi-car accident

* Aerodynamics will play a role at RIR. Richmond is a fast track for a short track

* Brakes are a real factor. Don't abuse your brakes

* Track position is critical; you need to work that in your favor during the course of the race.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Jackie Stewart , Richard Petty , Andy Petree , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Dave Blaney , Kyle Busch , David Pearson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Bill Davis Racing