Seven drivers have already punched an entry ticket to the Race for the Sprint Cup Championship, NASCAR’s 10-race version of the playoffs, with five more invites to be awarded at the conclusion of Saturday night’s Federated Auto parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Eight drivers are in contention for those final five spots, and the tension will be thick for each as they try to maintain their position, as is the case for Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr, or for others like Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, who have to try and race themselves in.
Logano and Biffle should get in based on each having a win and being at least 28 points ahead of Newman for one of the two wild card wins awarded to drivers with the most victories. But the best race of the night will be between Gordon and Kurt Busch, separated by only 6 points.
Busch holds the 10th position, and needs to maintain it in order to make the Chase because he doesn’t have a win this year. Gordon needs to have a run similar to last season when he raced race himself into the Chase at Richmond with a second-place finish.
It’s been a while since either Busch or Gordon won at Richmond, but both have been very competitive there in recent years. Busch last won in 2005 while driving for Roush Racing. Gordon last won there in 2000, which was the second win of his career on the three-quarter-mile flat track.
While Gordon hasn’t won in Richmond in a longer span than Busch has even been driving in the series, he has been very consistent. He’s finished 12th or better in 11 of his last 13 starts there, which includes six top-5 finishes. Over the same span, Busch has finished 12th or better seven times, including besting Gordon by two positions in the spring when Busch was ninth.
To get a better read on who might do well Saturday night, I like to look over at what happened at Phoenix in March, the first Richmond race in April and New Hampshire in July. Phoenix and New Hampshire are both mile track with completely different layouts than Richmond, but all three have relatively flat banking which makes the set-ups similar. Teams that do well on one track traditionally do well on the others.
This season we have seen Carl Edwards finish eighth or better on all three, including his only win of the season at Phoenix. Kevin Harvick finished 13th or better on all three, including a win in the first Richmond race. Gordon was 11th or better in all three, Matt Kenseth was ninth or better in all of them, and surprisingly, Jeff Burton had at least a top-10 in each with his best finish of the season coming at New Hampshire where he finished third.
The correlation between the three tracks is nothing new. It’s been going on since each of them have been existence together. Recent drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Burton, Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson have all compiled wins in season at two or more of these tracks. In the case of Harvick in 2006, he won on all three tracks, including a sweep of Phoenix. Clint Bowyer is a driver that also shown his best on these type of tracks. He’s a two-time winner at Richmond, including winning this race last season.
The best overall driver at Richmond since he came onto the scene in 2005 has been Kyle Busch, who incidentally grabbed one of his two wins during his 2005 rookie campaign at Phoenix. He finished both Richmond races that year in the top-5 and he’s been running strong ever since with a 6.5 average finish that includes three wins, the last coming in April 2012.
Busch notched his fourth win of the season last week at Atlanta, and of all the drivers headed to the Chase, he looks like the one to beat because he has the most momentum going for him.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].