Mash The Gas: Richmond Preview

Joey Logano leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 12, 2015. [Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Joey Logano leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 12, 2015. [Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The regular season for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to an end Saturday night as the Richmond International Raceway hosts the Federated Auto Parts 400 in the last chance for many drivers to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Federated Auto Parts 400
Richmond International Raceway
300 miles (400 laps)
Saturday, Sept. 10, 7:30pm ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
With a whopping thirteen different winners this season, only three Chase spots based on points remain for those drivers without a win with the rest needing a victory on Saturday night to break into NASCAR’s version of the post season.

Richmond is a .75 mile oval that tends to race similar to flat tracks in New Hampshire and Phoenix and typically drivers to do well at those places also have success at Richmond. A few surprise winners this season have mixed up the championship contending field already and Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 will leave some teams excited about beginning their shot at the series championship while delivering a knockout blow to the rest.

The intensity ramps up at Richmond this Saturday night and here are some drivers to watch…

Kevin Harvick (Dan Margetta)
Kevin Harvick has been on a roll lately as the Chase is about to begin. He’s rattled off three straight top five finishes which include a win at Bristol and a strong second place showing last week at Darlington. Harvick holds three wins at Richmond to go along with ten top five finishes and nineteen top ten results and his average finishing position of 8.4 is second best on the tour. He also holds the top driver rating here and has been extremely strong at Phoenix, a track that races similar to Richmond. The main downfall to Kevin Harvick and the #4 team continues to be pit road problems that have traditionally plagued this team over the last few seasons. A poor pit stop last week cost them the victory and led to a berating tirade over the radio from Harvick which led to some personnel moves before this week’s race at Richmond. No one doubts Kevin Harvick is a strong contender for the Sprint Cup, but everyone questions the team’s ability to limit mistakes and close the deal on races. Look for Kevin Harvick and the #4 team to strongly answer those questions Saturday night at Richmond and get their Chase off on a strong footing.

Denny Hamlin (John Wiedemann)
With two wins at Richmond International Raceway, Denny Hamlin is one of the favorites to pull off the victory this weekend. Hamlin already has two wins this season and is looking to add some more bonus points to his total before the Chase season kicks off next weekend at Chicagoland. Hamlin’s stats average around third best at the track amongst his current competitors including his average finish of 10.550. All of Hamlin’s teammates run very well at the little superspeedway and we will probably be seeing all four of them run up front together at some point in the race, maybe even at the end. I’m going with Hamlin this weekend to best his teammates as well as the rest of the field.

Kyle Busch (DM)
One driver looking to capitalize should Kevin Harvick falter is Kyle Busch, the best driver statistically at Richmond. Kyle Busch has four victories here and has an outstanding fifteen top five finishes in just 22 races. In other words, nearly 70% of the time he finishes in the top five at Richmond. Busch also owns the best average finishing position here at 6.9 and had teammate Carl Edwards not knocked him out of the way coming to the checkered flag in the spring race, he would have bettered those stats with his fifth win. Busch and the #18 team have spent a considerable amount of time at the front of the field lately but mechanical malfunctions have ruined most of those good runs. That’s not the way this team wants to start the Chase so look for Kyle Busch to be determined to get back in the win column and kick off the Chase with some momentum.

Kasey Kahne (JW)
This is it for Kasey Kahne. Kahne’s only shot to make the Chase is to get to the checkered flag first. Looking at his history at the track combined with his lack of success this season, the odds are against Kahne being one of the sixteen drivers in the Chase this season. Kahne’s best finish of the year, fourth place, came at this track in the spring (and at Dover three weeks later). But most of the rest of the season has been filled with poor showings for the driver who has yet to lead a lap this season. Richmond is one of the better tracks for Kahne who seems to have skills matched up to racing on the “D” shaped ovals. Like I said, it would be unlikely for Kahne to drive into victory lane, but when your back is up against the wall, you go all out.

Matt Kenseth (DM)
Matt Kenseth is another driver that has led laps the past few weeks but doesn’t have the stand out end results. Kenseth has two wins at Richmond to go along with six top five finishes and sixteen top ten finishes. He won earlier this year at New Hampshire which is a track with similar racing characteristics to Richmond so he should be one to watch Saturday night. He’s also the defending winner of this race. After getting off to a rocky start in the regular season, Matt Kenseth and the #20 team will look to start the Chase off better and repeat last year’s winning performance at Richmond on Saturday night in the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Jamie McMurray (JW)
On the bubble is where Jamie McMurray is sitting right now. So many things could happen that would either put him out or into the Chase when the Richmond race is done. Assuming that Chris Buescher finishes in the top 30 in the standings, McMurray has a 22 point cushion over closest rival Ryan Newman. Assuming that no one gets their first victory of the season, other than McMurray, he is pretty safe. Those are a lot of assumptions and we need to add in the assumption that McMurray gets a solid finish. To be completely safe, McMurray could win the race or finish about ten spots higher than Austin Dillon. There are a lot of scenarios and McMurray will be one to watch as his Chase eligibility could change back and forth all night long.

Ryan Newman (DM)
Prior to Tuesday, Ryan Newman had a pretty good chance to make the Chase through points as he sat only seven points behind the cut-off spot. That changed drastically when Newman and the team were docked 15 points for failing the laser inspection station after Darlington, leaving him now 22 points or positions behind the final Chase spot. That means in order to qualify for the Chase this season, Ryan Newman pretty much has to win at Richmond this Saturday night. Newman has qualified for the Chase each of the last two seasons without a win and nearly won the title in 2014. It will be a tough task as Newman hasn’t found victory lane since the Brickyard 400 in 2013. He holds the fourth best average finishing position here at 11.6 and he does have a victory to go along with six top five finishes and sixteen top ten results. Without anything announced for next season, Ryan Newman may be racing for his future Saturday night with everything hinging on a win. It’s for that reason I am making him my long shot pick this week.

Jeff Gordon (JW)
What if Jeff Gordon won the race on Saturday night? Would NASCAR figure out a way to get him and the #88 into the Chase? They have done it for Gordon before. Ok, I know he is not eligible, not in the top 30 in points, and not even planning on racing the rest of the season in the #88. But it would make for some interesting discussion. Gordon has two wins at Richmond and Dale Earnhardt Jr has raced very well there in the #88. So, if you put those together, you would think that Jeff Gordon has a good shot of adding to his win total this weekend. I said good shot, not great shot. But it would sure be interesting to see him pull off the victory and fun to watch as well.

Share Button