Five Things You Need To Know: Richmond
It’s a beautiful day at Richmond International Raceway and tonight’s race is one of the most important of the season, since it will set the final field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what you need to know:
THIS IS IT — Tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 is the 26th and final race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. After tonight’s race, the field will be set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s season-ending, 10-race playoff round that will determine the 2013 champion.
Twelve drivers will make the Chase — the top 10 in points after tonight’s race, plus the two drivers in positions 11-20 with the most race victories. After tonight, the top 10 drivers will all have their point totals reset to 2,000 — plus three points for each race victory. For example, Matt Kenseth has won five races, so he will start with 2,015 points, unless he wins again tonight, which would give him 2,018. The two wild-card drivers in positions 11-20 get 2,000 points only, with no bonus points.
WHO’S IN — No matter what happens tonight, seven drivers are guaranteed to advance to the Chase. They are: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne. The first six are all locked into the top 10 in points; depending on what happens tonight, Kahne will either finish in the top 10 or be a wild card.
WHO’S ON THE BUBBLE — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch are all in the top 10 heading into the race, though they aren’t locked in yet. Earnhardt is pretty safe: He gets in the Chase by finishing 32nd or better, finishing 33rd and leading at least one lap or finishing 34th and leading the most laps. The other three are progressively less safe. Jeff Gordon is 11th in points right now, but is only six points behind Kurt Busch and starts tonight from the pole.
Martin Truex Jr. holds the second wild-card spot right now and leads Ryan Newman by just five points. Also still mathematically alive — but needing the planets to align perfectly to make the Chase — are Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard.
WHO’S OUT — Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart won’t make the Chase because of his leg injuries. Neither will 2010 runner-up Denny Hamlin, who missed four races with a back injury earlier in the season. Unless he wins tonight and has several competitors fall by the wayside as well, Keselowski will be the first champion since Stewart in 2005-06 to win the Chase one year and fail to make the field the next.
KEYS TO VICTORY — The easiest place to pass these days is on pit road, where a crew can gain or lose half a dozen positions on any one pit stop. By qualifying on the pole, Gordon was able to select the No. 1 pit stall at the far end of pit road, which should be a tremendous advantage during the race.
The other key to victory will be patience. This is a long race with a lot at stake, so tensions will be high. If your car isn’t good at the start of the race, keep working on it all night and don’t get frustrated. And don’t get caught up banging sheetmetal with another driver.