It’s the final round of the regular NASCAR season at Richmond this weekend and the last chance for several big name drivers to book their place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. theCheckeredFlag.co.uk looks at the contenders ahead of the big decider.
On a run of six consecutive top-10 finishes, including a win at Michigan, Joey Logano is almost home and dry. The lead Penske driver comes to Richmond eighth in points and with a relatively comfortable 20-point safety net over Kasey Kahne, the first man outside the top 10 with wins to his name. Surely only disaster now stands in the way of a coming-of-age Chase debut.
Having led the points most of the way last season, 2013 has been somewhat of a comedown for Greg Biffle, who comes to Richmond ninth in points and still with a keen eye over one shoulder. But with a win in his pocket from Michigan in June, it looks likely that Jack Roush’s man will once again make the cut.
The 2004 champion sits on the bubble in tenth place, the final guaranteed spot in the Chase. Without a win to his name this year, Busch – who recently announced that he will form part of an expanded four-car Stewart-Haas lineup next season – cannot afford to drop the ball if he is to take underdog single-car outfit Furniture Row Racing to the Chase for the first time.
Without a win this year, Jeff Gordon’s only chance of making the Chase rests on him beating Kurt Busch to the 10th and final guaranteed spot. The four-time champ found himself in a similar position last year, needing to beat the other Busch brother – Kyle – to the final Wildcard spot, so knows what it takes to get the job done. And after his great escape last year, the mere six point deficit to Busch will seem like an achievable task for the might of the Hendrick Motorsports organisation, who can bring already qualified team-mates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. into play if needs be.
Despite only sitting 12th in points, Kasey Kahne is looking assured in the first Chase berth with two wins this season already under his belt. Kahne is five points ahead of Martin Truex Jr. and ten ahead of Ryan Newman, each of whom with only one win apiece and could yet scupper the hopes of winless pairing Busch and Gordon by making top 10 in points, so don’t be surprised to see Kahne make the cut either way.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex’s breakout win at Sonoma – his first in 218 races – has the Michael Waltrip Racing #55 provisionally in the second Wildcard berth, five points ahead of Ryan Newman and each on one win. Truex is fighting with one hand tied behind his back having sustaining a broken wrist at Bristol two weeks ago, but a courageous run to third last week will see him high on confidence coming into Richmond.
The Rocket Man is just five points adrift of the final Wildcard spot and still in with a chance courtesy of winning at the Brickyard back in July. With no place for him at Stewart-Haas in beyond 2013, Newman needs a big performance to remind team-owners of his ability and secure a competitive ride next year.
The reigning champion is not down and out yet, but Brad Keselowski’s chances of defending his crown are looking bleak. Since Penske switched to Ford over the off-season the wins have dried up and a few top five finishes aside, Keselowski has struggled to string together a consistent run of finishes, his cause not helped by engine problems while leading in Atlanta last week. He needs problems for his rivals at Richmond to make the cut.