NASCAR’s final regular season event, The Federated Auto Parts 400 on the .75-mile oval with 14 degree banking at Richmond International Raceway, commences Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. ET on ABC. Fans in the stands or at their TV can expect exciting racing with complex playoff scenarios.
Ten drivers have locked up spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup group—Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. Tony Stewart by virtue of his three wins has clinched at least a Wild Card spot.
Eight drivers are eligible for the final two spots.
Presently Kasey Kahne with two wins and Kyle Busch with one win have the Wild Card spots.
Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano have one win and can clinch a Chase spot with a win at Richmond.
Two winless drivers outside the top 10 with a chance to get into the Chase, Carl Edwards and Paul Menard will need a win and then mathematical help or race misfortune from other drivers with more points.
Jeff Gordon could break into the Chase if Kyle Busch or others have bad days, but Gordon can clinch with a win.
Race scenarios at Richmond might seem as complicated as counting spaghetti noodles in thick sauce, but one good way to clear the possibilities is for one of the eight outside the top 10 to pull off a win.
Denny Hamlin is coming off two consecutive wins and certainly carries team momentum into the final regular season race. Hamlin has four wins secured will take a top position when the points are reset.
Only Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart with three wins each can match Hamlin’s four victories with a win at RIR.
One element remains constant, the top-five drivers with clinched spots would welcome a win right now, but their team thoughts have to be about going for the championship once the field is set after RIR.
Opinions about racing the Richmond short track were uncharacteristically brief this week as the top guys-Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr.- roll into the final regular season event.
Greg Biffle (No 16 Ford)
“It feels good to be locked into the Chase,” Biffle said. “Richmond is definitely a driver’s track and the night race this weekend will be exciting for fans.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No 88 Chevrolet)
“I like short tracks,” Earnhardt said. “I have always enjoyed running there, and it’s a fun track. It’s not your typical short track with the way the front straightaway is. It definitely makes each corner unique from the other and the way you drive the track can change throughout the race. It’s a lot of fun for a driver.”
Matt Kenseth (No 17 Ford)
“You never know how the racing will be this weekend at Richmond with guys still trying to race their way into the Chase,” Kenseth said. “I think certainly since NASCAR added the wild card element that it’s put another interesting twist into qualifying for the Chase so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. It’s nice to know that we’re locked in. Of course we’ll still be racing to get another win hopefully before the Chase begins.”
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
“Richmond is unique just because of how racy it is,” Johnson said. “The shape of the track, the banking, size, good side-by-side racing it is a very racy track.”
Martin Truex Jr. (No.56 Toyota)
“Richmond obviously has the ability to be one crazy, wild, exciting race,” Truex said. “It’s been that way in the past and depending on who is in and out of the wild card spots, things are definitely going to get exciting. Richmond is definitely a good place to settle things — some good ‘ole short track racing — and it will definitely get more exciting there than it would be anywhere else.”
As for the other 24 competitive drivers who are mathematically eliminated from the Chase—they don’t mind spoiling the day for playoff contenders by snaring a win.
This final race of the 2012 regular season, gives the often heard statement—go or go home—real meaning. When only two drivers and teams stand a chance to join 10 others in hunting for the grand prize after this one race, the amped intensity during the final laps at RIR will be felt by legions of fans.
When the green flag drops, the final chase for the 2012 Chase begins. Ten drivers know they have a chance at the trophy. Only eight drivers can hope to be among the two to join them on stage after the checkered flag.
The 2012 regular season has 400 fast and final laps remaining.
After Richmond only 12 drivers can chase the championship.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.