|Busch won at Richmond in spring, his fourth win on the track (Getty)|
Things are going get very interesting this Saturday night at Richmond, the final race to decide who makes the final position of the Chase. We’ve got kind of a one on one battle with Kyle Busch holding a slim 12-point lead over Jeff Gordon for the final position. And then way out in the distance with a slim chance still alive, we have Carl Edwards 26-points behind Busch in a situation where he has to win to get in and hope the other two contenders falter.
It may seem highly unlikely that Edwards could get in since he hasn’t won a race since last year in Las Vegas, but we do have to consider that in the first Richmond race this season held in April, Edwards led five times for a race high 206 laps. He went on to finish 10th in the race, but it’s enough to give him a puncher’s chance in this bout.
The winner of that April race was Kyle Busch which gave him four career wins on the track. With the lead he has going into this race and all his past history, Busch would be a minus-800 favorite over Gordon and Edwards to take the final Chase spot. But who knows, we’ve seen bigger upsets in the sports world like the Houston Cougars losing Saturday to Texas State as a 35-point favorite and minus-6000 on the money-line.
The problem with trying to find an issue with Busch at Richmond is that it never happens. We see Busch always run into tough luck, or even at times run poorly at other tracks, but never at Richmond. His worst finish was 20th in 2007 and in 2008 he finished 15th. In his 13 others starts, he’s finished sixth or better. His average finish in in 15 starts is 4.7, an amazing stretch of consistency.
Not only should Busch make the Chase, but he’s also the favorite to win the race. His one downfall going against him winning would be that he’s never won the fall race. All four of his wins have come in the spring.
Gordon doesn’t quite have the Richmond resume that Busch has, but he’s been solid throughout his career there. He needs to win to get in by virtue of having two wins on the year compared to Busch’s one win. The problem with getting Gordon a win is that he’s only had two Richmond wins over his 39 career starts with the last win coming in 2000.
I like to use recent New Hampshire and Phoenix races to get a feel for what might happen at Richmond because of the similar banking. If a driver runs well on one track, they’re likely to run well on the other. When I look at Gordon’s performances this year at those two tracks, he was a top-10 finisher, but wasn’t a real contender to win. At Richmond in April, Gordon finished 23rd.
The driver who will give Busch a run for his money to win this week will be native Virginian Denny Hamlin, who has two Richmond wins to his credit, both of which came in the fall event. His career average finish of 7.3 is second only to Busch. Right now, no one is hotter than Hamlin. He won at Bristol two weeks ago and took the checkers at Atlanta Sunday night. He’s got all the momentum coming in and will have large supporting cast in the crowd rooting him in.
Hamlin also has the added bonus going for him of winning at Phoenix and finishing runner-up at New Hampshire. He finished fourth in the spring at Richmond making him the only driver to finish in the top-5 at all three similar tracks.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was runner-up in the spring race and finished fourth at New Hampshire making him a candidate to win under the lights. Junior has three career Richmond wins, the last coming in 2006.
Kevin Harvick won this race last season and showed some fight last week at Atlanta for the first time in months. He was a contender and his history at Richmond suggests he’s capable of doing it again. He’s finished 12th or better in 14 of his last 16 starts, including another win in 2006.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
2) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
4) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
5) #5 Kasey Kahne (12/1)