Monday, September 3, 2012

Richmond Storylines; Chase Scenarios

Chase hopefuls will hope to stay out of harms way at Richmond (Getty) 
Atlanta’s AdvoCare 500, as expected, filled in many of the blanks for this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Nine seeded drivers clinched post-season berths while reigning champion Tony Stewart is guaranteed at least a Wild Card berth.

Two Michael Waltrip Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, have become the organization’s first drivers to qualify for the Chase.
At stake Saturday night in Richmond are the final three pieces of the puzzle. Tony Stewart clings to 10th place – and his nine potential Chase bonus points – by an 18-point margin over provisional Wild Card qualifier Kasey Kahne. Eight different drivers ranked 11th through 18th factor into the Wild Card picture with four – Kahne, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose – still mathematically able to reach the final, pre-Chase top 10.
Denny Hamlin became the season’s first four-time winner in Atlanta and holds the provisional top Chase seeding with 12 bonus points. Hamlin, teammate Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing have won six of the past seven races at Richmond International Raceway. Busch won at the 0.75-mile track in April.
Take your pick: Elliott Sadler vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.; Ford vs. Chevrolet. Each of the top two NASCAR Nationwide Series championship contenders has won four times with Stenhouse, the reigning series champion, getting victory No. 4 in Atlanta. Sadler’s lead is just 12 points entering Friday night’s race at Richmond where neither has visited Victory Lane.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader Ty Dillon will have an extra week to savor his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory while teams prep for their Sept. 15 visit to Iowa Speedway. Dillon, the season’s fifth first-time winner and 11th different winner overall, will join elder sibling Austin Dillon in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250.


Chase Clinch Scenarios: 10 Are In
It’s official. Michael Waltrip Racing will have a presence in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ for the first time as Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer were among six drivers clinching berths in the post season Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Truex made the Chase just once, in 2007, while Bowyer’s last of three previous appearances was in 2010. MWR became one of Toyota’s charter teams in 2007.

Others clinching seeded spots in the Chase are Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Tony Stewart clinched at least one of two Wild Card spots. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jimmie Johnson – the only driver with all nine Chase appearances – qualified for NASCAR’s second season the previous weekend in Bristol.
Wild Card Pivots On Stewart’s Richmond Fortunes
Amazingly enough, two-time winner Kasey Kahne – who stands 11th in the standings – could be shut out of the Chase. Or Kahne could grab the final seeded position by vaulting past reigning champion Tony Stewart. 

Four drivers will battle for 10th-place – and the right to carry over bonus points into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – when the field lines up Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Stewart holds 10th by just 18 points over Kahne. He’s 23 points ahead of Kyle Busch and 35 points up on four-time NSCS champion Jeff Gordon.

Stewart is in control of his own destiny at Richmond and can lock up 10th by finishing 16th while leading the most laps, 15th with one lap led and 14th without a lap led.

Kahne and Busch are the provisional Wild Card holders heading into the final week of the regular season. Kahne is safe if Stewart holds 10th place. Otherwise, Stewart is guaranteed the first Wild Card with his three victories and Kahne slides into a battle with Busch, Gordon and Marcos Ambrose for Wild Card No. 2 – but only if one of those three rivals is the Richmond winner. If multiple drivers tie for wins, the tie-breaker goes to the race winner with the highest points position.
One-race winners Ryan Newman (17th) and Joey Logano (18th) could claim the second Wild Card with a Richmond victory based upon Stewart remaining in the top 10. Winless Carl Edwards (14th) and Paul Menard (15th) are the final drivers mathematically eligible for the second Wild Card. Richmond is must-win race for both.
Hamlin Peaking At The Right Time
As in 2010, Denny Hamlin is a primary contender for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Hamlin’s second consecutive victory – after a so-so summer – finds the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team peaking at the right time. Hamlin would be the No. 1 seed with 12 bonus points were the Chase to begin this week. The Virginian has momentum on his side as well as Darian Grubb, last year’s championship crew chief with Tony Stewart, calling the team’s signals. Hamlin has a pair of Richmond victories in 2009-10 and finished fourth to JGR teammate Kyle Busch in April.
This week’s provisional Chase seedings (bonus points): 1. Hamlin (12). 2. Jimmy Johnson (nine). 3. Brad Keselowski (nine). 4. Tony Stewart (nine). 5. Greg Biffle (six). 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Clint Bower (three). Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick would be seeded ninth and 10th with the base of 2,000 points apiece. The two Wild Card entries also would begin the Chase with 2,000 points.
Richmond’s April Race Previewed 2012 Chase Lineup
You can say April’s Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers was a preview of this year’s Chase lineup. Nine of the top 10 finishers either have qualified for the post-season or hold a provisional Wild Card. The top five was comprised of Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne. Carl Edwards led 206 laps and finished 10th, his hopes for victory dashed by a restart penalty.

Joe Gibbs Racing has been the dominant team at Richmond winning six of the last seven races at the 0.75-mile track. Busch has won four times; Hamlin twice. Chase qualifier Kevin Harvick won last year’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 – the most recent victory by a Richard Childress Racing driver. Harvick also won the track’s September race in 2006. Jimmie Johnson has three of Hendrick Motorsports 10 victories including a sweep in 2007.
A Toyota or Chevrolet has carried the winner of the past 13 Richmond races. Ford (Kurt Busch) and Dodge (Kasey Kahne) last won at the track in 2005.

- NASCAR Media Services

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