This Saturday night at Richmond, Virginia, the old Capital of the Confederacy, we’ve got a wild card race for one entry into NASCAR’s playoffs – the Sprint Cup Chase.
There are already 15 drivers (14 officially) who have clinched one of the 16 positions for the 10-race Chase, and 15 more who are eligible to get in by simply winning Saturday night.
Three of the drivers have a good shot at getting in by points if none of the 15 candidates vying to make it don’t win. Greg Biffle is currently in 16th place with a 23-point lead over Clint Bowyer and a 24-point lead over rookie Kyle Larson. Realistically, there are probably nine drivers among the wild cards who could win, and that’s stretching it.
Because you have so many desperate drivers out there, you can expect a few to make some daring and bold moves, which increases the chance one of the really good drivers – with the best chance at winning Saturday – could be be involved in a wreck.
The first thing I like to do before all Richmond races is look at what happened in the first race (April 6) and then refer to similar tracks like Phoenix (Mar. 2) and New Hampshire (July 26). None of those three tracks look alike, but all three are flat with similar layouts, a mile or less. If a driver does well on one, he usually does well on the other.
Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix, Joey Logano won at Richmond and Brad Keselowski won at New Hampshire. In all but Logano’s case, those drivers led the most laps.
Jeff Gordon led 173 laps in the first Richmond race until giving the lead up with 38 laps to go. Gordon would eventually finish second. He also finished fifth at Phoenix. Surprisingly, Gordon only has two wins at Richmond, the last coming in 2000.
The obvious theme between all three is the success of the Penske Racing Fords that claim two of the wins. Keselowski has finished no worse than fourth in any of the three races and is probably the best candidate to win for the first time on this track.
Kevin Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond, the last in the spring of 2013. He led 224 laps en route to a dominant victory at Phoenix and has been fast everywhere on a weekly basis. He should be Keselowski’s toughest opponent this week with Logano just a small notch below.
Kyle Busch has finished ninth or better on all three tracks this season and boasts four Richmond wins over his career. In 19 starts, he’s averaged a seventh-place finish, which is amazing considering how volatile the ¾-mile track is.
As for the best chances among drivers who have to win to make the Chase, Clint Bowyer is probably the best candidate not only because of two wins at Richmond, but also because of long-term success at Phoenix and New Hampshire as well.
However, all that past success came with Richard Childress, who was also making dominant cars for Harvick. You can be good on a track, and be desperate, but if you don’t have a car that can compete, all that goes out the window. And Bowyer’s car right now isn’t very good.
Look for Biffle to make the Chase and for Keselowski to be the driver to beat.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].