NASCAR trotted out eight drivers Thursday who are all mathematically eligible to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
In reality, Saturday night’s ”regular season” finale is a race between Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon for the final berth in the 12-driver field.
The two wild card berths are both technically open. But with two wins on the season, Kasey Kahne is in strong shape to lock one of them down. So Busch and Gordon talked as if it’s just down to them for the last slot.
”It’s just Jeff and I,” Busch said. ”Nothing against any of the other guys, but the way past history preserves itself, I think it’s just Jeff and I.”
Busch can clinch a berth by winning the race, or by losing 12 or fewer points to Gordon. It doesn’t hurt that Richmond is one of his best tracks.
He’s a four-time winner at Richmond, and his May win here is his only victory this season. He’s got an average finish of 4.7 and has 13 top-10s in 15 career starts. With that track record, he didn’t seem too stressed Thursday.
”It certainly relieves a little bit of pressure than if (the race) was anywhere else,” Busch said. ”Richmond is a really good race for me, but it is a short track where anything can happen.”
Gordon only makes it into the Chase by finishing 13 points ahead of Busch. And, a week after failing to knock Denny Hamlin out of the way at Atlanta for what would have been a crucial victory, Gordon is vowing to do anything needed to make the Chase.
”We’re going to do whatever it takes to win, whatever that means,” Gordon said Thursday.
What it doesn’t mean, though, is asking for help. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are already locked into the Chase, and although Kasey Kahne isn’t yet, it would take an epic failure and a litany of other scenarios for him not to claim a wild card.
Gordon wants them to run their own races on Saturday night.
”I’m not going to ask them to do anything for me,” he said. ”It they choose to do anything on their own, that’s on them.”
At the same time, Gordon said he won’t give anyone any breaks, even his teammates. At Atlanta, on the final restart, he had a chance to knock Hamlin out of the way and steal a win that would have given him two on the season and put him in prime position to grab the last Chase berth.
He’s been kicking himself ever since, and even wondered if he’s getting soft in his later years. It won’t happen again on Saturday night.
”We’re going to be treating anybody that’s in front of us as if they are the enemy,” Gordon said.
Busch understands that it could be anything goes in the closing laps on Saturday night. His preference is for a quiet race, with a driver already locked into the Chase winning, and Busch finishing second. But if he’s got to move Gordon for the win, he’ll do it, and knows Gordon will do the same to him.
”It would be in line with what’s on the line,” he said.