One Last Race to Make the Chase: It's Now or Never
The Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway means one thing to 11 drivers: One Last Race to Make The Chase. Fortunately for Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, they have already clinched a spot in the third installment of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. But for nine other drivers, Saturday night's race at America's Premier Short Track is the final opportunity to earn a berth in The Chase.
Here's a look at what each driver in positions three through 10 needs to do at Richmond International Raceway to keep his championship hopes alive. The following drivers can clinch a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway with the following finishes, no matter where any other competitor finishes:
Kevin Harvick (third in points): 40th
Jeff Gordon (fourth in points): 25th
Kyle Busch (fifth in points): 22nd
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (sixth in points): 16th
Denny Hamlin (seventh in points): 16th
Tony Stewart (eighth in points): 7th
Mark Martin (ninth in points): 4th
Jeff Burton (tenth in points): 4th
That leaves one driver¿Kasey Kahne¿looking to race his way into The Chase, just like Jeremy Mayfield did back in 2004. Could a Ray Evernham-owned car repeat the feat? Kahne is on a roll coming off his win at California Speedway last weekend, and the young gun recorded his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win at Richmond International Raceway in 2005.
"Anything can happen at Richmond," said Kahne. "It's going to be a wild race and hopefully we're on the good side of things. We've run well there, qualified on the pole, had a couple of top-five finishes and led laps. We've had success at Richmond. We need an opportunity and then [we have to] take advantage of it."
Although Kahne is battling the entire field, 10th-place Burton, 9th-place Martin and 8th-place Stewart will be three particular drivers Kahne will need to out-perform to gain a spot in The Chase.
"I think Jeff [Burton] is going to be good," said Kahne. "His car was really good in the first race there.
Tony Stewart and Mark Martin are going to be good. As close as all three of those guys are, it's just going to come down to what happens late in the race. I don't really look at one guy as who I have to beat or not. We just got to go out there and try to beat everybody."
Burton, a Virginia native, has traditionally run well at Richmond International Raceway. He has recorded one win, seven top-5s and 11 top-10s at his home track. Burton has had a resurgence this year and is looking forward to returning to America's Premier Short Track¿a place that is deserving of the 26th race, according to Burton.
"Really, it's what the fans think and what do they want to see," said Burton. "I can't imagine a better race track for putting on good races. If you looked around and said, you know, what race track puts on great races, certainly Richmond has to be one that you put in there. I think what the fans want to see is a really good, hard race. I can't imagine a better pick for the last race to transfer in, because imagine how much closer the action is going to be than what we had. Imagine the action and, you know, I happen to have the points right in front of me, it's so freaking close, it's unbelievable. None of us can catch our breath, even all the way up to, you know, [Dale Earnhardt] Junior and Kyle Busch. Richmond is the kind of place, it's easy to finish 35th. It's easy to
get in a wreck. There's so much side by side action, the restarts are wild. I just can't imagine a race that you could have any more drama and any more build up to than the Richmond racetrack."
"As far as racing goes, I think Richmond is tops," continued Burton. "It's side by side race action and still small enough to be good short-track racing action but big enough to have the speeds and the stuff that creates a whole hell of a lot of excitement for the fans. I just don't know if you can get a whole lot better than Richmond. I think it's the best all-around racetrack we come to. To have The Chase start there; to have all that action and all that drama unfold at Richmond¿a track that has a tremendous amount of that anyway¿I think it's pretty cool."
Kahne is only 30 points behind 10th-place Burton, but maybe more importantly, is
within striking distance of most of the field. The following drivers are still
in a battle, as reflected by their points ahead of 11th-place Kahne:
Kevin Harvick 147
Jeff Gordon 102
Kyle Busch 95
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 77
Denny Hamlin 76
Tony Stewart 45
Mark Martin 32
Jeff Burton 30
"I feel confident at Richmond that I can run in the top 10 there," said Earnhardt Jr., who sits in sixth. "I think all of us from sixth on back are going to really have to take advantage of every opportunity to gain points, whether it's leading a lap or using pit strategy to gain track position."
"There's a lot relying on what we do on Saturday night," said Kahne. "I look forward to it. I enjoy the pressure and I enjoy being in this position. I think it's pretty cool that we still have a chance to make The Chase and that we're running as good as we're running."
"If you said to me in February, hey, you can go to Richmond with a chance of transferring in, but you've got to run well, that would be the track I would pick to be in the scenario," said Burton. "I feel good about Richmond. I enjoy the track. I enjoy the closeness of it. I tend to run well there and we work exceptionally hard on that program, as other teams have, too."
Be sure to keep your eyes on these drivers, along with the rest of the field for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. The Green Flag time is set for 7:40 p.m. this Saturday and if you don't have a ticket to the sold-out race, you can catch all of the action on TNT.
Additionally, you can still see all of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers on Friday, September 8 at Fas Mart Pole Qualifying. Friday's ticket includes a seat for the Emerson Radio 250 NASCAR Busch Series race, featuring Greg Burton, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, J.J. Yeley, Reed Sorenson, Clint Bowyer, Scott Wimmer and Scott Riggs. Reserved seats are $45 (in advance) and $50 (on race day). General admission seats are $35 (in advance) and $40 (on race day). Children 12 and under are admitted free in general admission seating with a ticketed adult. For tickets and information, please contact the Richmond International Raceway ticket office at 1-866-455-7223 or visit www.rir.com.