|Chase hopefuls will hope to stay out of harms way at Richmond (Getty)|
Two Michael Waltrip Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, have become the organization’s first drivers to qualify for the Chase.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.