We’ve seen 25 races come and go in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and there’s only one more regular season race before the playoffs start.
That means it’s do or die for all the drivers sitting outside the top-16. Drivers like Clint Bowyer in 17th, Erik Jones in 18th, Joey Logano in 19th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 22nd all need to win and are too far out to point themselves in.
Meanwhile the other drivers that are already qualified will be racing care-free with no worries and simply trying to gain more bonus points for the playoffs. They can go all out with no fear of anything. So what we’ve basically got this week is the entire field doing some daring stuff with nothing to lose.
In the first race at Richmond this season in April, Logano came away with the win followed by his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. It was Logano’s second career win there and it should have been enough for him to qualify for the playoffs, but he had the points taken away after failing a post-race inspection, or in other words – cheating. I like to call it creative engineering, but anyway, Logano has to win to make the playoffs.
Bowyer is also a two-time winner at Richmond and has always fared well on short flat tracks. Earnhardt Jr. is a three-time winner there and he’ll have the loudest support from the Richmond crazies who know what’s at stake in his final season as a full-time driver. Perhaps the best equipped to win right now among those needing to win is Jones just because he’s had the same goods as teammate Martin Truex Jr.
As far as what I think will happen, I don’t see any reason to stray from a Joe Gibbs Racing driver. They’ve won four of the past seven races after going winless to start the season. Denny Hamlin won last week at Darlington and finished third at Richmond in April. He’s also a native Virginian with three wins there and a 9.7 average finish. The only driver in the series with a better average is teammate Kyle Busch at 7.3. Busch has four Richmond wins. Matt Kenseth led the most laps there in April.