Chase hitting Richmond favoring Kahne

Sep 6, 2005 2:43 AM

Lights, action, camera; That’s what happens this Saturday night under the lights in front of a nationally televised audience as the NASCAR Nextel Cup series finalizes its list of competitors in the exciting 2005 Chase for the Championship.

It’s not a popularity contest that’s voted upon by judges or fans. This is the best of the best for the season up to this point. For the few that are still alive and chasing for the dream of becoming this year’s Cup champion, they’ll have to traverse through the brutal three-quarter mile D-shaped short track of Richmond where the racing gets tight and the tempers got hot.

With all the marbles on the line for a few drivers, a race like this could really send them over the edge. That would surely add to the compelling drama.

The last time we visited Richmond was in May when Kasey Kahne (12-1) got his first career victory. Most thought at the time that Kahne’s win would be the first of many to come. We thought that was the spark he would need to get himself in this year’s chase for the championship after having such a successful rookie year last season.

But it wasn’t to be and it seems he’s gotten progressively worse each week. It’s possible things could be different for Kahne this week with no pressure on him and having a great setup for this race. At 12-1, he’s a nice selection in pre-practice wagering.

The driver most due in this race and on the season is Tony Stewart (8-1). He’s a three-time winner at Richmond, but has struggled there since has last win in 2002. Stewart did finish second to Kahne in the May race, which was the beginning of things to come. A few weeks later, Stewart would begin a stretch of five victories in seven events.

Stewart is winless in three straight races, but has no fear of anything right now. He’s in the chase and it doesn’t matter what he does for this race. Look for Stewart to let it all hang out and leave nothing to be spared on the track. He badly wants the win.

Rusty Wallace (15-1) has six wins at Richmond over his career with the last coming in 1997. He’s locked into the chase, but this will be a bit more sentimental for Wallace. Richmond is a track that helped Rusty become a household name. His tenacity on the short tracks over his great career gained the respect of all his fans and peers alike.

Wallace has only two short tracks left on the schedule during his "Last call" retirement run. Though a victory is unlikely, it sure would be fun to see him compete late for a win. With his Cup chase fate already sealed, look for Rusty to take off his conservative cap and go for the win. I think he’s got at least a top 5 in him.

Along the same lines of racing pedigree as USAC drivers Stewart and Kahne, Ryan Newman (12-1) and Jeff Gordon (11-1) fit the bill of drivers that do well at Richmond. Newman has a win, two seconds and a third in his seven career Cup starts at Richmond. Gordon has two career wins with the last coming in 2000.

Matt Kenseth (14-1) may be just a notch above Mark Martin (15-1) for this race as the top candidate to win from the excellent Roush racing drivers. Kenseth was 12th in the May race, but that was a long time ago for this team. He won this race in 2002 and has five other top 8 finishes in his 11 career starts.

Martin’s one career win at Richmond came in 1990. He’s had 11 other top 5 finishes there. Coming into the season, Martin was scheduled to retire like Rusty, but he may race one more year because of the pending contract of both Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch. I sure hope Martin goes one more year. He deserves to have a final season on his own when we know he’s actually leaving. At this point it appears Martin will be back.