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Mash The Gas: NASCAR Richmond Preview

Night racing action at the Richmond International Raceway. [Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]

The final race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season is set for this Saturday night as the Richmond Raceway hosts the Federated Auto Parts 400.

With the playoff field basically set points wise, some of the high stakes drama of years past in this race will be missing as the only thing that would upset the apple cart would be a win by a driver outside the top 16 in points.

Amongst those top 16 points drivers, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray are locked in a battle between themselves to not be 16th in points and on the hot seat should an outside driver win the race.

There are still plenty of drivers outside the top 16 that could get the job done but lately the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota teams have come on strong, winning four of the last seven races after going winless for the first half of the season.

The formula for this event is simple, those outside the top 16 need to win to get in and those locked in on points need to win to gather valuable playoff points.

With everybody going for broke with nothing to lose, the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond on Saturday night should be exciting and here are some drivers to watch…

Joey Logano — Joey Logano won the last Monster Energy Cup race here at Richmond last April and appeared to be well on his way to the playoffs. However, following the race, his points and playoff qualification were stripped from the team after the car failed post-race technical inspection. Since then, Logano hasn’t been as strong and now finds himself in desperate need of a win at Richmond to make the playoff field. He’s listed at 20-1 odds and his record at Richmond is pretty good with two victories, six top fives, and nine top ten finishes. Logano has his back against the wall this week with only one goal which is to win the race and Saturday night will tell if his team is up to the challenge. Look for Joey Logano to make a charge toward the playoffs Saturday night only this time the car better pass the technical inspection.

Clint Bowyer — Another driver in the need to win to get in category is Clint Bowyer who has run strong all season but has yet to find victory lane in his first season driving for Tony Stewart. Bowyer has two wins at Richmond to go along with four top fives and twelve top tens in his 23 starts. So far in 2017, Bowyer has posted three second place finishes and two third place results but on Saturday night, the only way he advances to the playoffs is by winning the race. All year we’ve been waiting for Clint Bowyer and the #14 team to break into victory lane as they were expected to be a playoff contender. Saturday night is their last chance and they will be in “win at all cost” playoff mode a week early. At 25-1 odds this week, watch for Clint Bowyer to be part of the story in one form or another on Saturday night.

Matt Kenseth — With Joe Gibbs Racing teams winning four of the last seven races, you would think one of these weeks would be Matt Kenseth’s turn to be in victory lane. He has run very well and has consistently been in the top ten but has yet to find victory lane this year which would make a win on Saturday night a great way to head into the playoffs. Kenseth does have to make sure he stays ahead of Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray to ensure his playoff berth by points as well but I really feel this team is ready to win. Throw in the fact that Kenseth is still looking for a job next season and the prospect of a victory on Saturday becomes all that more important. Kenseth has been good at Richmond, owning two victories, six top fives, and sixteen top tens, plus he led the most laps here back in April. He is listed at 8-1 odds this week and should be considered one of the favorites on Saturday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – If you’re looking for a story book ending on Saturday, then a win by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his absolute final chance to make the playoffs in his last season of competition would be just that. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever wants to be a Cup champion then he must win this race. It’s that simple as he needs that victory to first get into the playoffs and have a shot at the championship. The on track performance so far this season doesn’t bode well for this scenario and it’s reflected in his odds to win which pegs him as a 100-1 long shot this weekend. In his career at Richmond, Dale Jr. has three wins, ten top fives and fourteen top ten finishes, making the Richmond Raceway one of his best tracks. Crazier things have happened but the fans would just about tear down the grandstands if Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this race on Saturday night and all I’m saying is…there’s a chance.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta