It all comes down to this. One 400-lap race at tiny Richmond International Raceway to determine the final few drivers that will make up the 16-driver field for the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Richmond is nearly perfect for this scenario. It’s big enough that drivers can race side by side, but small enough that some contact will occur. It’s how that contact affects everyone that will play a role in who gets in and who stays home. Richmond has always been the site of the final race before the Chase starts and there have been some unbelievable races that determined Chase for the Sprint Cup. The most unbelievable race occurred last year.
Ryan Newman was the leader with 20 laps left and looked like he would grab the last wild-card spot with the win. A spin by Clint Bowyer set up a green-white-checkered restart and fireworks that would give NASCAR officials a headache. Coming to the restart, Brian Vickers was ordered to pit road by Ty Norris, the general manager of Michael Waltrip Racing, for whom Vickers was driving, much to Vickers’ confusion. Carl Edwards, who was the leader, appeared to jump the restart, but NASCAR did not black flag him and Edwards held on for the win. But that wasn’t the biggest controversy NASCAR officials had to deal with.
NASCAR later determined (and it was their opinion) that the actions of Bowyer and Vickers were done in order to help their Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) teammate Martin Truex, Jr. earn enough points to make the Chase. As a result the following penalties were handed down to MWR: the entire MWR organization was fined $300,000, Bowyer, Truex and Vickers were all penalized 50 points in both the driver and car owner point standings, and Truex was removed from the Chase. Ryan Newman was given Truex’s spot and in addition to all that, NASCAR decided that Jeff Gordon did not have a fair chance at making the Chase because of what may or may not have occurred by the MWR organization. They announced later in the week that Gordon would become the unprecedented 13th driver to the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. While there probably won’t be anything like that this year with the harsh penalties that came down on MWR last year, Saturday night’s race will have fans on the edge of their seats to see which drivers make it on points.
Most wins among active drivers: Kyle Busch (4).
Defending Winner: Carl Edwards avoided a penalty from NASCAR to pick up his second win of the year and his first since the second race of the season at Phoenix.
Prediction: This driver started the year off hot and showed that he would be a threat to win almost every week with strong runs and good finishes. He has three wins at Richmond, with two coming in the fall event. He has cooled off somewhat, but a win would give him three on the year and more all-important bonus points for the Chase. I’m going with Kevin Harvick. They call Harvick “The Closer” because he comes from seemingly nowhere to steal the win late in the going. He could close out the regular season with another win and let the competition know they’ll have to deal with him if they want to win the title this year.