"Road To Richmond" Makes Short Track Stop in Thunder Valley

Glowing Rotor

“ROAD TO RICHMOND” MAKES SHORT-TRACK STOP IN THUNDER VALLEY
Only Bristol, Atlanta Remain Before “One Last Race to Make the Chase” at Richmond

Richmond, VA (August 20, 2009)— The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season is winding down and the “Road To Richmond” rolls into Thunder Valley this weekend, making a stop at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night. Only two races remain, Bristol and Atlanta, until the September 12 Chevy Rock & Roll 400, which is “One Last Race to Make the Chase” at Richmond International Raceway.

Only the top 12 drivers in the standings following the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at America’s Premier Short Track will make the 10-race Chase, and one of the most exciting battles to make the field since the inception of the Chase in 2004 is shaping up on the “Road to Richmond.” Inside the current top 12, positions seven through 12 are separated by only 96 points, with Mark Martin holding onto the precarious “bubble” spot in 12th place. Outside of the top 12, after a win at Michigan last week, Brian Vickers is just 12 points behind Martin for the last Chase berth. Additionally, on the strength of three consecutive top-10s, Clint Bowyer is only 58 points behind Martin in 14th position and Kyle Busch is lurking in 15th place, currently 70 points out of the Chase.

Looking at Bristol this weekend, Busch’s third career win at the ½-mile track would go a long way in getting him closer to a Chase spot. Busch was dominant in March, leading a race-high 378 laps en route to the win and a near-perfect Driver Rating (149.2). If Busch wins Saturday night and leads the most laps, he will earn 195 points. That would mean drivers in positions 12-14 must finish 12th or better (127 points) to remain ahead of Busch. Looking at history, the advantage would certainly go to Busch. Martin has averaged a 13th-place finish in 41 career Bristol races and has only two top-10s in his last 13 attempts. Vickers’ average finish is 26th, with two finishes higher than 20th in 10 career starts, and Bowyer’s average finish is 14th in seven races.

At the top of the standings, Tony Stewart has already clinched a berth in the Chase and both second-place Jimmie Johnson and third-place Jeff Gordon can lock up spots in the Chase field this weekend at Bristol. Gordon can clinch his spot by finishing sixth or better without leading a lap, seventh leading at least one lap or eighth leading the most laps, regardless of what any other driver does. Johnson needs to finish second or better, third leading a lap or fourth leading the most laps, to clinch.

On to the bubble situation.  Here’s how things shook out after Michigan:

10th – Greg Biffle has struggled with consistency in recent weeks and has been flirting with the Chase cutoff line as a result. Biffle is just 30 points ahead of 12th-place Mark Martin heading to Bristol. Biffle was fourth at Indianapolis, but finished 15th at Pocono a week later. He ran fifth at The Glen, before placing 20th last week at Michigan. If the pattern holds, expect a good run for Biffle at Bristol, where he has the sixth-best Driver Rating (98.0) among active drivers, a 12.1 average finish and seven top 10s in 13 starts.

11th – Matt Kenseth is fighting to stay inside the top 12, just 20 points ahead of Mark Martin for the final spot, after struggling through a season that started off so promising. The former champ has just two top 10s in his last 10 races, eighth at Daytona and 10th at Indianapolis. Kenseth has been strong at Bristol though with two career wins, seven top fives and 11 top 10s in 19 starts. He also has the seventh-best Driver Rating (97.7) among active drivers.

12th – Mark Martin has the most career starts (41) at Bristol among all drivers inside the top 12.  The veteran has two wins at the ½-mile oval, 22 top-10s and a Driver Rating of 79.4. This season, Martin leads the series with four victories, but he has also finished 30th or worse seven times, including Sunday’s 31st-place finish at Michigan, and worse than 40th three times. If Martin can hang on inside the top 12, his four wins would make him the top seed entering the Chase and give him 40 bonus points.

13th - Brian Vickers became the 13th different winner this season at Michigan, moving to within 12 points of the top 12. Numbers show that 2009 is a career-year for Vickers with a career-best 11 top-10 finishes. But now comes the hard part for Vickers. Three races – and three tracks – remain before the Chase, and two of those tracks – Bristol and Richmond – rank in the bottom five for Vickers in both Driver Rating and average finish (Atlanta is his 11th-best Driver Rating track and sixth-best in average finish). At Bristol, Vickers has a top finish of 12th in 10 career races. Additionally, he has yet to break a 70.0 Driver Rating at Bristol.

14th - Clint Bowyer’s Chase hopes looked bleak three weeks ago, but after three consecutive top-10s, he is just 58 points out. Bowyer finished third at Pocono, ninth at Watkins Glen and eighth at Michigan last week. All three finishes were career highs for Bowyer at each track. Look for Bowyer’s streak to continue – he has top-10 finishes in 11 of the 21 races he’s run at Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, including a win here in May 2008.

15th - Kyle Busch has finished 22nd or worse more times this year (10) than he has in the top 10 (seven). In the season’s first 18 races, Busch had an average finish of 16.1, a Driver Rating of 103.1, an Average Running Position of 11.1, 253 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-50 and 809 laps led. Since then, his stats have fallen dramatically. In the last five races – where he has fallen from eighth in the points to 15th – Busch has an average finish of 22.8, a Driver Rating of 81.3, an Average Running Position of 17.9, eight Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential of negative-3 and 15 laps led. But, Busch has two wins at Bristol and the third-best Driver Rating (103.2) among active drivers at the track.

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup culminates at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, September 12, at the Chevy Rock & Roll 400—“One Last Race to Make the Chase.”  Once the checkered flag flies, the field will be set for the series championship.  Tickets, which start at $40, are on sale now and can be purchased by clicking here or calling 866-455-RACE (7223).

The weekend starts on Friday, September 11, with the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race “under the lights.”  Friday’s ticket includes practice and Fas Mart Pole Qualifying for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, as well as practice and WRIC-TV8 Pole Qualifying for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.  Tickets are $45 (reserved) and $35 (general admission) and children 12 and under are admitted free with a ticketed adult in general admission sections on Friday only.  Click here or call 866-455-RACE (7223) for tickets and information.

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