Mash The Gas: Richmond Preview

This is it.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Richmond International Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 and it’s “Zero Hour” for those drivers in contention for the twelve Chase for the Championship playoff spots. Currently seven of the Chase slots are accounted for and a total of ten drivers are in the running for the remaining five positions.

The seven drivers locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup are Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Kasy Kahne. Mathematically, ten other drivers have a shot at the Chase, but it is quite a longshot for those at the bottom of the list. Realistically there are eight drivers that have hope with half of those needing help from their fellow competitors to have a bad night at Richmond. Expect the “make the Chase” tag to be bouncing around to different teams throughout the race.

The green flag to kick off the madness is scheduled to fly at 7:45pm EST at the Richmond International Raceway. The excitement will continue throughout the 400 scheduled laps encompassing 300 miles at the .75 mile “D” shaped short track that races like a super speedway in Richmond, Virginia.

The race will be broadcast on ABC for those at home and MRN for those listening on the radio.

The following is a list of drivers we think will be interesting to watch at Richmond.

Kyle Busch
Dan Margetta: With Denny Hamlin sidelined somewhat this year, Kyle Busch looks like the man to beat at Richmond. He owns four wins here to go along with twelve top five finishes and he rolls into Richmond riding the momentum of his Atlanta victory last weekend. A win on Saturday night would draw Busch into a tie with teammate Matt Kenseth for most wins on the season which translates to valuable Chase bonus points. Also, this team has quietly strung together many strong finishes over the last two months. Kyle Busch was my pre-season pick for the championship and unlike years past, the driver and team are looking like they will have a successful Chase.

Joey Logano
John Wiedemann: Probably the hottest driver , second to Kyle Busch, on the circuit right now is Joey Logano. Logano is poised to make the Chase and could factor in the Championship. It would be kind of shocking if teammate and defending champion Brad Keselowski didn’t make the Chase and Logano did, and that is what is close to happening.

Brad Keselowski
DM: In football terms, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has to go 80 yards with no time on the clock to merely qualify for the Chase field. Currently 15th in points, a whopping 28 points outside the top ten and without a victory, Keselowski and the #2 team have to pull off the ultimate Hail Mary to earn their spot in the dance. Even if Keselowski were to win, he would still need help to qualify for the Chase (Still OK with settling for 2nd at Watkins Glen, Brad?) Keselowski’s record at Richmond is less than stellar with his best finish being a seventh, but this team is all-in from the start and they do have the talent to pull off the minor miracle and make the Chase.

Kurt Busch
JW: It is now all up to Kurt Busch and the #78 team to make the Chase. The rollercoaster ride where Busch was in the top ten one week and out the next week is over. Busch is in the top ten and it is up to him to stay there. Busch does not need any help to stay in the top ten and make the Chase but there are drivers that can knock him out. A win is not out of the question at Richmond and my prediction is this is the week that “finally” gets in to victory lane this season.

Jeff Gordon
DM: For the second consecutive season, Jeff Gordon comes to Richmond in a dog fight for a spot in the Chase. He’s 11th in points, just six points outside the top ten. Gordon has two career Richmond victories and boasts 16 top five and 25 top ten finishes here. Last season, Gordon put the right foot down when it counted and raced his way into the Chase. Elite drivers shine when the pressure is on and expect Jeff Gordon to come out swinging Saturday night at Richmond.

Jimmie Johnson
JW: Jimmie Johnson has been locked into the Chase for weeks now. But looking at his finishes and the issues he has had in the last couple races, you wouldn’t think Johnson is a championship contender. The #48 team is as professional as they get and led by Chad Knaus, they will be ready for the Chase. Past winners at Richmond, they are still a team to watch to see if they flip the switch and are in championship mode. It would not be surprising to see something weird happen and take them out of the race at Richmond either, it’s been a strange couple of weeks for Johnson.

Clint Bowyer
DM: Clint Bowyer has two Richmond wins to his credit to go along with nine top ten finishes. The team has clinched a spot in the Chase but with no victories for the season, they currently own zero bonus points. They almost changed that last week as Bowyer led most of the race before problems with the Toyota power plant knocked them out of the race while up front. The Atlanta issues have to leave Bowyer wondering about the reliability as the Chase begins and a victory Saturday night would erase those questions.

Ryan Newman
JW: With his win at Indianapolis, Ryan Newman put himself into Chase contention. Since that time he has been just outside the position to make the Chase. Currently five points behind Martin Truex Jr. for the final Wild Card, Newman definitely has a chance to make the Chase. A win would put him in, otherwise he needs to beat Truex as well as hope Gordon or Keselowski doesn’t win. Other factors could keep him out as well, like Greg Biffle falling out of the top ten. There are so many scenarios, the best would be win and Newman is in.

Carl Edwards
DM: Carl Edwards and the #99 crew is another example of a team already set for the Chase but without much performance wise to really be seen as a threat for the championship. They do have one victory this season and had a strong run at Bristol until engine issues knocked them out. Last week they were fast for most of the race but finished a mediocre 18th. That’s happened too many times this season and quite frankly, 18th place finishes are not going to win the championship. Edwards has yet to win at Richmond but he has had strong finishes on similar tracks this season. It’s time for Carl Edwards to step up and show the NASCAR world he’s a contender and not a pretender in the 2013 Chase for the championship.

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