Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Notes Heading into Richmond

Who will be the final-12 this Saturday night? 
Richmond: Last Call For Chase Qualifiers

You can’t win if you’re not in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET ABC, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Radio) is the final opportunity to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.

Six competitors – Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth - have claimed top-10 berths.Seventh-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. faces the least pressure among non-qualifiers, needing only a finish of 32nd or better in the 400-lap race to enter the postseason. Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch complete the provisional top 10 – 16, 14 and six points ahead of 11th-place Jeff Gordon.

Logano and Biffle each have a single victory giving them some Chase insurance as potential Wild Cards.
Former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Busch and Gordon, however, both are without victories. Two-time winner Kasey Kahne (12th) and Martin Truex Jr. (13th) hold the provisional Wild Cards.

Gordon is familiar with this year’s circumstances.
In 2012, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion entered Richmond battling Kyle Busch for the final Wild Card berth. He prevailed by three points by finishing second.
“Winning is our goal. It’s what we want to do every weekend,” said Gordon, who would overhaul Kurt Busch for 10th-place by visiting Richmond’s Victory Lane for the first time since 2000. He has two wins overall at the 0.75-mile short track and finished 11th when the series visited the Virginia track earlier this year. His 1,415 laps led rank first among active drivers.
Gordon was among drivers who tested at Richmond recently.
“We were much better the second day of the test, but we still have a weekend full of hard work ahead of us," said Gordon.
Gordon is among five drivers who have clinched Chase berths on the final night of the regular season. Ryan Newman’s sixth-place finish in 2005 is the best among the “last in” drivers. Brian Vickers (2009), Kasey Kahne (2006) and Jeremy Mayfield (2004) also were final-race qualifiers.

Disappointment Fueled Kyle Busch’s 2013 Resurgence 

What a difference a year makes. Kyle Busch didn’t qualify for the Chase in 2012. Now, he’ll enter this year’s postseason as no worse than the No. 3 seed among 12 drivers pursuing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Busch’s fourth victory of the year in Atlanta gives the Las Vegas native at least 12 bonus points when standings are reset following Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond.
Each Chase qualifier starts the postseason with a base of 2,000 points. Drivers finishing among the top 10 also receive three points per victory during the regular campaign.

Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Dave Rogers, disappointed that the No. 18 Toyota failed to make the Chase, competed as if they were among the final 12 teams.

“We missed the Chase but we didn’t give up. We didn’t just ‘lame duck’ the rest of the year and ride around,” Busch said of last year’s final 10 races. “We actually worked hard and pushed ourselves to be better. I think we did a good job of learning … what we could do and learning how we can contend and compete and that’s what we need to focus on this year is doing some of those same things.”

Busch is a four-time Richmond winner and ranks first in average finish (6.5) in the most recent 17 races at the 0.75-mile short track.

Matt Kenseth is the provisional top seed based upon his five victories in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is making the most of his first season with JGR winning at Las Vegas, Kansas, Darlington, Kentucky and – most recently – at Bristol.

Kenseth has led 16 of the season’s first 25 races including 140 in Richmond’s spring event en route to a finish of seventh. Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson currently holds the No. 2 seed with four wins and a ranking of first in regular season points. Johnson’s momentum, however, has stalled during the past month with finishes of 28th, 36th and 40th in his past three starts.

Kevin Harvick is the remaining Chase qualifier with multiple victories (two). Carl Edwards has a single victory. Clint Bowyer is the only Chase-qualified competitor without a win in 2013.

Owners’ Chase Even More Wide Open

For the first time in the 10-year history of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the 12 cars in the owners’ Chase might not have their corresponding drivers in the drivers’ Chase.

The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota could each make history, earning a spot in the owners’ Chase while neither of their drivers makes the drivers’ Chase.
With one win apiece heading into this weekend, a victory at Richmond would guarantee at least a Wild Card spot in the owners’ Chase.

The possible rarity comes from two different 2013 scenarios for the No. 14 and 55. Throughout, the No. 55 has planned for a multiple-driver campaign for 2013, shared by Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip. The No. 14 had to move to a multiple-driver lineup because of Tony Stewart’s broken leg prior to Watkins Glen. Since the injury, sustained in a Sprint Car race, the No. 14 has been piloted by Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin. Vickers and Martin will drive the No. 55 and 14, respectively, at Richmond on Saturday.

At Richmond, Martin has one win and 30 top 10s in 55 starts. He has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four Richmond starts. Vickers has three top 10s in 15 starts, with a best finish of seventh in 2009. 

Currently, the top two Wild Cards for the owners’ Chase are the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

Home, Sweet, Home: Hamlin Returns To Richmond Looking For Silver Lining 
Hamlin has always been one of the drivers to beat at Richmond

This has NOT been Denny Hamlin’s season. After a fractured vertebrae forced the Chesterfield, Va., native to miss four races (and most of a fifth, at Talladega), Hamlin has experienced mostly disheartening results and unlucky outcomes.

He currently is mired in a streak of 11 consecutive finishes of 18th or worse, averaging a finish of 28.3. He is mathematically eliminated from Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup consideration, missing NASCAR’s playoffs for the first time in a career that began in 2006.

So, what now? Richmond, that’s what. His championship hopes now dashed, Hamlin only has pride and wins for which to race.
This weekend’s race at Hamlin’s home track just might be the cure-all for one of the sport’s biggest talents. It’s one of his best tracks, and it’ll be a long time coming – the spring Richmond race was one of the four he missed.

Hamlin has two wins at Richmond, and finishes in the top 10 in four of the last five races. And when he doesn’t finish in the top 10, it’s usually the result of misfortune. For instance, in his last start there in September of 2012, Hamlin led 202 laps only to finish 18th.

Of Hamlin’s 14 starts at Richmond, he has tallied triple-digit laps-led figures in five of them. He also boasts the highest Richmond driver rating, at 117.8.

Solid 2014 Preview For Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing

Several permanent driver changes won’t take place until 2014 but at least one – AJ Allmendinger taking the wheel of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota – already is paying dividends.

Allmendinger, running selected events in the No. 47 since mid-season, posted the team’s first top-10 finish of the year last month at Watkins Glen International. A last-minute substitute for regular driver Bobby Labonte, who broke three ribs in a bicycle accident on the eve of last week’s race in Atlanta, Allmendinger finished 14th – another solid effort for the single-car team.
Allmendinger is signed for two additional races in 2013 – at Kansas and Homestead-Miami speedways – although Labonte’s status in the coming weeks could expand the Allmendinger-JTG schedule.
Atlanta’s weekend also saw 21-year-old Kyle Larson, the current NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader, officially announced as the driver of the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet next season. Larson isn’t expected to drive an EGR entry in the remaining races but the Drive for Diversity graduate, open-wheel star and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner could appear in selected NASCAR Sprint Cup events for another team.
EGR’s current driver Juan Pablo Montoya qualified the No. 42 Chevy third in Atlanta then led the AdvoCare 500 and finished seventh. Teammate Jamie McMurray ran among the top 10 for much of the race before finishing 11th in the No. 1 Chevrolet.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Two top-five milestones could be reached this weekend: Carl Edwards continues his search for 100 career top fives, and Clint Bowyer’s next top five will be No. 50. … At Richmond, Kasey Kahne will make NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start No. 350. … With Kyle Busch’s win last Sunday at Atlanta, Toyota reached its 250th NASCAR national series victory. … Ryan Truex will make his second NSCS start of his career this weekend at Richmond, driving the No. 51 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing. He finished 42nd in his first start, two weeks ago at Bristol. … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his first Coors Light Pole Award last week at Atlanta, becoming the 15th different pole winner this season. There were 17 different pole winners all of last season.

- NASCAR

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