*Race To The Chase, Week 10: It's Cut-Off Time At RIR *5 Drivers Already In Chase *Star Power: Chase Will Likely Have Four Former Series Champs *Appropriate Showcase Place: Richmond Has Rich History *Joey Logano Trying For First NASCAR Sprint Cup...
*Race To The Chase, Week 10: It's Cut-Off Time At RIR
*5 Drivers Already In Chase
*Star Power: Chase Will Likely Have Four Former Series Champs
*Appropriate Showcase Place: Richmond Has Rich History
*Joey Logano Trying For First NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Start
Bubble Bursting: Drivers Vying To Get Into Chase Field
The Race to the Chase has reached the end of its road.
Next stop: The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Richmond International Raceway turns up the volume Saturday night for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, an event that has become an annual highlight of the season, as the "cut-off" race leading into the Chase, the five-year-old playoff-style format to determine the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Twelve drivers make the Chase, which is contested over the season's last 10 events. Once again, there are more drivers than 12 with a chance to qualify, coming into RIR.
But first, here's what we know.
Five drivers have already clinched Chase berths:
Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota); Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet); Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet); and Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet).
Six more, who resi1de in points positions 6-11 this week, can be placed in the "highly probable" category coming into Richmond: Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford); Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet); Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota); Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford); Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont-Nicorette Chevrolet); and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota).
And then you have a few other guys, treading tenuously on both sides of the 12th-place Chase bubble. Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) has 12th-place honors this week. Of course, that's akin to starting the final round of the Masters with a one-stroke lead. Bowyer's position is hardly secure.
Bowyer, who has remarkably strengthened his grip on the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead in recent weeks despite the pressure of the Chase, holds a slim 17-point advantage (2,989-2,972) over David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford).
Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Bud-weiser Dodge) is staring his hot-and-cold season squarely in the face this week. He's 14th in points, only 48 behind Bowyer.
Kahne has won two events this year -- plus the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which pays no points. Suddenly, despite all of that, he has the look of a long shot.
But then, so did Jeremy Mayfield in 2004, the first year of the Chase.
Mayfield motored into Richmond that September needing a victory to even make the Chase. Win he did, establishing a standard for drama that at once validated and highlighted NASCAR's then-new championship approach.
Four years later, more highlights are seemingly on deck.
Here's a closer look at the three drivers in bubble territory this week, from a Richmond perspective:
Bowyer, like Ragan and Kahne, has limited RIR experience, but he looks like a quick study, a short-track speed-reader of sorts. In four starts he has three top 10s at RIR, including a victory this past May. Ragan has three Richmond starts in NASCAR Sprint Cup, with one top five and a 17th-place finish in this season's spring race. Kahne appears to have the edge in this trio, as far as Richmond is concerned. Consider: Nine starts, one victory, five top 10s. Good stats by any measurement. Stats aside, it all comes down to one night, one race. This is what was envisioned, when the Chase was instituted.
For an in-depth look at various Chase-clinching scenarios, plus a report on how drivers have fared at Richmond in recent years according to NASCAR Loop Data, please see Page 2 of this release.
Making The Chase: Berths In NASCAR's Playoffs Will Shake Out At Richmond
Seven spots remain up for grabs in the Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Two Chase berths will be clinched once the green flag flies at Richmond. Both Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick need only to start the Richmond race to clinch a Chase berth.
So, realistically, five spots remain.
While listing every clinch scenario would fill up uncountable pages (and hours), the below scenarios are the simplest.
The following are the clinch scenarios that would lock up Chase spots for Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin regardless of how any other driver finished (assuming there are no ties for most laps led at Richmond):
Finish 37th and lead at least one lap
Finish 40th and lead the most laps
Finish 28th and lead at least one lap
Finish 30th and lead the most laps
Finish 25th and lead at least one lap
Finish 28th and lead the most laps
Finish 22nd and lead at least one lap
Finish 25th and lead the most laps
After that, the points get tighter and the scenarios that much more intriguing. Clint Bowyer is 12th, 17 points ahead of David Ragan and 48 points ahead of Kasey Kahne. There are a number of different scenarios that could play out that would give Bowyer a Chase spot, but simply put: Bowyer can clinch a spot by either winning or finishing second and leading the most laps or third and leading the most laps.
Ragan is in a similar clinching position. Regardless of other drivers' finishes, Ragan clinches if he wins and leads the most laps. Other clinching scenarios -- involving certain finishes by both Bowyer and Kahne -- also exist for Ragan.
Kahne's road is bumpier. At Richmond, he needs to finish 48 points ahead of Bowyer and 31 points ahead of Ragan to clinch a spot.
On The Line: Bubble Drivers Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Kasey Kahne
Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Kasey Kahne occupy positions 12-14, respectively, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. They were guests on Tuesday's NASCAR Teleconference.
Following are some excerpts:
David Ragan: "We definitely are excited just to have an opportunity to get into the Chase. The bottom line is we just have to go out and beat these guys. No other way around it. We can't count on the other teams having problems or issues throughout the race. We have got to make sure we are on our toes so we don't have any mechanical failures or any screw ups in the pits and also on the race track. Richmond has been a good track for us in the past, we have had some success there."
Kasey Kahne: "Yeah, I am looking forward to it. I think we just come in and really just do the best job we can. We've been put in a position and all we can do is do our best and hope that it works out for us, and see how the points end up at the end of the night. Really, if we run our race, it doesn't necessarily mean that we are going to make it into the Chase. I just feel like Kenny (Francis) and our whole Budweiser team has done a good job preparing the car and being ready to go when we get to the race track. You know if we can go out there and try to get a really good finish and just look at the points in the end of the night and see where we are at."
Clint Bowyer: "It's obviously down to crunch time. We have one more week, but if there is anything that gives you a good feeling, it's knowing that we won there in the spring and it's a track that I typically run good at. But as we all know Richmond is a track where anything can happen. You know we have kind of put ourselves in this situation, but it is time to see what we are made of. A lot of pressure this weekend but I think we can handle it."
Loop Data At Richmond: Hamlin Has The Numbers, Needs A Victory
Luck managed to elude Denny Hamlin during this past May's race at Richmond.
The Chesterfield, Va. native led an unbelievable 381 of the 410 laps that race, looking like the certain winner at his hometown track.
Then bad luck -- in the form of tire problems -- intervened. Hamlin finished the race a disappointing 24th, three laps off the pace.
If it's any consolation, his stats that race were the numbers of a winner. In May, Hamlin had a Driver Rating of 129.1, an Average Running Position of 2.3 and 104 Fastest Laps Run.
Now, Hamlin returns for revenge. This time around, the stakes are a little higher. Currently 11th in points standings, Hamlin is teetering on the Chase bubble. A strong finish will lock him in, though. Regardless of how any other driver finishes, Hamlin can clinch a Chase berth with a finish of 21st. That finish drops to 22nd if he leads a lap.
Considering Hamlin has led at least one lap in all five of his Richmond starts, and that he only has one finish outside the top 15, figure on Hamlin a near-lock for his third consecutive Chase.
Hamlin's career numbers at Richmond -- which include three top 10s -- are phenomenal.
He leads the series in Average Running Position (5.3) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (97.5%), ranks second in Driver Rating (114.8) and fifth in Fastest Laps Run (162).
Also watch for a strong run from Kevin Harvick, who has finished inside the top 10 in each of the last seven Richmond races. Harvick plays with the houses money this weekend, locking up a Chase spot with a Richmond start. In other words, it'll be all about the win -- and the 10 bonus points that go with it.
Harvick has yet to win this season, but the stats suggest that could change this weekend. Harvick boasts series-highs in Richmond Driver Rating (118.9) and Fastest Laps Run (278), and ranks second in Average Running Position (5.8) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (95.3%).
Also, as usual, Kyle Busch could dominate this weekend. Though he has yet to win at Richmond, he has finished in the top five in six of his seven starts -- which include three runner-up finishes in the last four races.
Busch has a Driver Rating of 110.6 and an Average Running Position of 7.1 at Richmond.
Bonus Round: Richmond Affords Drivers One Last Chance To Improve Chase 'Seeding'
Kyle Busch has obviously benefited from the increased emphasis on winning races that is now part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship mix.
His outstanding season thus far will be rewarded appropriately when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Busch will have the Chase's "top seed."
All drivers who make the 12-man Chase will have their season point totals "reset" to 5,000, whereupon they then will get 10 bonus points for each win they had prior to the Chase.
Busch has eight victories thus far, meaning he'll start the Chase with at least 5,080 -- 5,090 if he wins Saturday night at Richmond.
Carl Edwards has the second seed wrapped up, with 50 bonus points to date. A recent rebound has enabled him to slice into Busch's once-daunting bonus point advantage. (Edwards actually has six race victories this year but a penalty after Las Vegas erased the bonus points he got winning at that track.)
Two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has the third seed secured, via a recent return to his form of the previous two seasons. Johnson has three wins on the year and will start the Chase at 5,030.
Kasey Kahne could start as the fourth seed, as he has two victories and a potential 5,020. One problem, though: Kahne is in peril of not even qualifying for the Chase field, as he heads to Richmond 14th in the series points, 48 behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer.
After that, we have a traffic jam.
Four drivers have won once in 2008 and are set to start the Chase with 5,010: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton. Of course it should be noted that of those four, only Earnhardt and Burton have actually clinched Chase spots.
Richmond, then, can be seen as a last chance race of sorts both for drivers trying to get into the Chase -- and for those already safely in the field.
Richmond affords drivers one more shot at accruing bonus points and capitalizing on the emphasis on winning now prevalent in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing.
Champions Lined Up For 2008 Playoffs
When the field is set for the fifth annual Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, following Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond, fans will immediately notice that the field will feature the cream of NASCAR's crop of talent.
Four former series champions appear headed toward the 10-race Chase, amounting to a total of nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, collectively.
Here's a look:
Two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, the only one of the four to have clinched a Chase spot, coming into Saturday night's event. Two-time champion Tony Stewart; 2003 champion Matt Kenseth; And four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who actually has a bit of a challenge facing him at Richmond, to secure a Chase berth. (See page 2's clinching scenarios.) Compared to the previous four years of the Chase format, this year's potential lineup falls one short of the record five former champions involved in the 2007 Chase.
Champions In The Chase
2004: (3) Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth.
2005: (4) Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch.
2006: (2) Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon.
2007: (5) Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc. ...
RIR Races Are Always One For the Books -- The History Books
Since the advent of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Richmond International Raceway has been part of a new round of history-making, as the site for the annual "Chase cut-off" event.
This is appropriate. Richmond is all about history in NASCAR. It's been on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule since 1953, when Lee Petty won the Richmond 200 by averaging 45.535 mph in a Dodge, on a half-mile track that was then a free-wheeling dirt surface.
In three of the four previous seasons, drivers who were outside the Chase "bubble" raced their way into Chase, via their efforts in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 -- Jeremy Mayfield in 2004, Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) in 2005 and Kasey Kahne in 2006.
Ahead Of The Curve, Logano Looks To Make First NASCAR Sprint Cup Start
Joey Logano, in the No. 02 Home Depot Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing, will attempt to make his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start on Saturday night.
At the age of 18.
Without the safety net of a guaranteed starting spot via the car owner points (the top 35 are guaranteed starts), Logano will have to make the field based solely on his qualifying speed. Few people are betting against him doing just that.
In addition to this week's attempt, Logano plans on running five more NASCAR Sprint Cup events this season in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota, beginning with the Sept. 14 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Logano will also drive the No. 96 machine at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City Sept. 28, Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Oct. 11, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway Oct. 19, and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth Nov. 2.
Next season he takes over Tony Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Toyota ride full-time.
RIR To Host NASCAR Foundation Track Walk On Saturday
The NASCAR Foundation is inviting fans to participate in the NASCAR Foundation Track Walk at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday at 11 a.m. The Track Walk is a partnership between The NASCAR Foundation and Richmond International Raceway Cares and proceeds will benefit both charities. Fans can register online at www.nascar.com/foundation or by calling (704) 348-9657 through Wednesday or register at RIR on Friday from 9 a.m.--7 p.m. and Saturday, from 8-11 a.m. The registration booth is located outside Gate 70 near Turn 4. Registration fees to participate are $35 for adults. Children 14-and-under walk for free with a paying adult.
NASCAR Angels Salutes Local Soldier With Car Makeover
Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam/Operation Homefront Dodge), will visit soldiers assigned to the Warrior in Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Lee, Va. on Thursday, on behalf of Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing emergency assistance and morale to U.S. troops and their families. Gordon will also make a brief stop at the PX to sign autographs.
Rusty Wallace, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and host of the nationally syndicated television program NASCAR Angels, will join Gordon on-site to salute U.S. Army SPC Joshua Grant of Chesapeake, Virginia with a car make-over. SPC Grant was wounded while serving his country in Iraq and is receiving treatment at Fort Lee while continuing his military duties.
In its third season, NASCAR Angels focuses on how the racing and automotive care communities can help deserving individuals in need of a transportation fix.
Up Next: Chase For the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Week 1 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
New Hampshire Motor Speedway once again has the opening event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the Sylvania 300 on Sept. 14.
In the four previous years of the Chase format, the race at the "Magic Mile" has proven eventful -- and sometimes critical to drivers' Chase hopes.
In 2004, the Chase's inaugural season, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) won at NHMS and went on to capture the title. Last year, surprise Chase qualifier Clint Bowyer won the race -- his first in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, no less -- and went on to finish third in the final standings.
Also last year, Busch started the Chase with a 25th-place finish at New Hampshire, which mired him in 12th in the Chase points. He never recovered, en route to a seventh-place result in the final season standings.
The Race: Chevy Rock & Roll 400
The Place: Richmond International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, Sept. 6
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
The Track: .75-mile oval
The Distance: 400 laps/300 miles
TV: ABC, 7 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite
2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson 2007 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
Pre-Race Day schedule: Friday -- Practice, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying, 6:05 p.m.