June 28th, 2015
It all comes down to this. This is the last race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. There are six drivers in the top-10 who have locked themselves into the Chase and one wildcard has been locked down. Those lucky drivers are Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Kasey Kahne (the wildcard).
The four drivers that round out the top-10 control their own destinies regardless of what any other driver does. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needs to finish 32nd or better, 33rd or better with a lap led, and 34th or better with the most laps led. Joey Logano needs a finish of 11th or better, 12th or better with a lap led, 13th or better with most laps led. Greg Biffle needs a 9th or better, 10th or better with a lap led, and 11th or better with most laps led. Kurt Busch needs to win, 2nd or better with a lap led, or third or better with most laps led.
Depending on how the top-10 drivers sort themselves out, on the outside looking in are Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, and Paul Menard. Truex and Newman have wins and as they run Truex gets the final wildcard spot.
It will be fascinating to see how these teams play out their strategies to make sure they control their own destinies under the lights.
Jeff Gordon has flirted with the top-10, but without a win could be left out in the cold. “Winning is our goal this weekend – it’s what we want to do every weekend. Through practice, during qualifying and during the race, we’re doing everything we possibly can to win. I’ve said all along that I think [Chase berths] will come down to the last lap at Richmond, and we’re going to battle all the way to that checkered flag to try and earn one of those spots. We missed it early (in the race) last year, but we were able to make some good changes and the car came to life. This year, I’m hoping we’ll be strong from the drop of the green flag all the way to the checkered flag.”
While he couldn’t punch his ticket yet, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is ready to get into the Chase. “It will be good to go to Richmond with a really nice cushion on the guys behind us. We tested at Richmond so hopefully that’s going to pay off for us. I’m ready to make the Chase and get to Chicago.”
Reigning champion Brad Keselowski has had to come over a lot with his Penske Racing team and isn’t about to quit. “It’s really easy to sit here and say that it just wasn’t our year but I’m not one to make excuses. Having motor issues at Atlanta – although it was really unfortunate because we were leading the race – is not what has us in this position. There are several things you can point to over the course of the year that begin to add up. We hit a rough patch in the middle of the year, plain and simple. Most every team goes through it and it’s something that we will definitely learn from. I’m ready to go to Richmond and win the race. I’m not going to worry myself with where this car is or that car is during the race. We’re going to win the race and when it’s over we’ll see if that was good enough to get us in.”
The game plan is the same for his Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano. “It’s something I’ve been saying and I will continue saying – we are not going to look at doing anything different this weekend then we have been doing the last several weeks. We are going to go out there and try and win the race or get the best possible finish we can. But I’d be lying if I said we also weren’t going to be paying attention to the competition. But we are not points racing just to get in – we are going to race hard and do what we’ve been doing all year. We get ourselves a good finish and we will lock ourselves into the Chase.”
For those without Chase chances this race turns into something of a test session to help turn a season around and work towards a successful 2014. Such is the case for Aric Almirola, “There is a lot of stuff on the line at Richmond. Unfortunately we are outside of the Chase, but we are still going to try to run as well as we can – maybe even spoil the event and get a win. We have to get back on track. We are capable of finishing up front but have struggled the past few weeks. With the Chase out of the picture, we are going to focus on winning and racing up front and not worry as much about the points.”
Moving up the performance is the goal for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., last weekend he got his first pole, this weekend he wants his first top-10. “The night race at Richmond is always exciting. Our No. 17 team is improving every week. We got our first pole last weekend, so now we are just looking for our first top-10. We have Nationwide back on our Ford Fusion so we want to get them a solid finish this weekend. If we can get our Nationwide Ford to turn in the center for good drive off, I think we will get our first top-10 this weekend.”
For those in the Chase, they can relax a bit and try something new. That is Matt Kenseth’s philosophy coming into the race. “I’m looking ahead to Richmond because it’s really fun going in there this weekend knowing that we’re clinched into the Chase already. I really like the track and I felt that we ran well there in the spring race. It typically hasn’t been a great track for me, but it’s been a great track for JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) so I’m looking forward to heading back there this weekend. We were able to lead some laps and we had a good car there back in April I felt, so I’m hoping we can make some better adjustments this weekend and end up out front somewhere on Saturday night.”
Carl Edwards will be looking for a strong run after the disappointment of the past two races at Bristol and Atlanta. “Going into Richmond locked into the Chase is a huge relief for us. I know how stressful that race can be and how stressful it will be for a number of the guys in the field. We’ve run really well there lately and have really fast race cars so, just like Bristol and Atlanta, we feel like we can go there and have a really good shot at winning the race. I like the race track because it’s the perfect mix of high speeds and short track racing; there are multiple grooves, it’s really fun to drive on. But the real story is the Chase and who’s going to be in it, and it’ll be interesting to watch that, Even from the driver seat I think a lot of the drivers and the crews will be watching that race just like the fans to see who gets in.”
The action gets underway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 Saturday night at 7:30 PM EST. All the action from the Richmond International Raceway can be seen on ABC.