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NASCAR: A final shot for locking up spot
KYLE BUSCH, GORDON WILL BATTLE TO MAKE CHASE CUT TONIGHT
BY ADAM HIMMELSBACH
RICHMOND—Technically, eight drivers enter tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 with a chance of securing one of the final two spots in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.
But really, the list is far shorter than that. Ten drivers are already locked into their positions in the field by virtue of their position in the standings. Kasey Kahne, the only driver outside of the top 10 with two wins this season, has all but secured one of the two wild card slots. And, especially considering past results at Richmond International Raceway, it appears Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon will tussle for the final wild card berth.
FEDERATED AUTO PARTS 400
WHEN: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Richmond International Raceway
TV: ABC (channels 7, 8)
RADIO: WFLS–FM 93.3
DEFENDING CHAMP: Kevin Harvick
ON THE POLE: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch and Gordon, like the five other drivers in the hunt for a wild card berth, have one win apiece this season. Both have a history of success both in this series and at this track. If none of the wild card hopefuls win tonight’s race, the points leader will break the tie for the 12th and final spot. Currently, Busch is in 12th place, just 12 points ahead of Gordon.
“I feel like Jeff is probably our biggest threat,” Busch said. “The No. 24 car has been good here in the past and they obviously have a good notebook with the Stewart–Haas cars running well here in the spring and also just having the resources and everything they do have. They’re no slouch. For us, that’s probably our guy.”
Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, is unlikely to be affected by the pressure or the spotlight.
“We’re prepared,” he said. “We’ve had back-to-back top fives. We’re ready to win this race this weekend and seal the deal.”
In Friday’s qualifying session, Gordon took the first step in what would be an improbable comeback. He turned a 126.981-mph lap, second fastest in the field, and will start alongside pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the front row. Busch, meanwhile, qualified 15th (126.033 mph).
“I think today is a big mission accomplished for us,” Gordon said. “We were very solid in practice all day.”
Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman all have one win this season as well, so one big night could slide any of them into the final wild card position. Carl Edwards and Paul Menard are both winless this season, but both have a slight mathematical chance of sliding into the field.
“The only thing I can control is going out to win the race,” Edwards said. “I think we have the car that can do it I’ve got both fingers and all of my toes crossed hoping it works out.”
Still, common sentiment is that this race will come down to Busch versus Gordon.
“I think it would be great if it was the two of us going after the win, whether it be [Gordon] or I leading,” Busch said. “But in all reality, I think it comes down to every man for himself.”
There have been September races here in which the field was essentially decided. There have been others when the drivers fighting for the final spots were far from household names. But for NASCAR, this is essentially a dream scenario. Two famous drivers are among the group vying for a position in the playoff, and they have one final race to sort it all out.
Gordon nearly won in Atlanta last week, but ultimately settled for a second-place finish, putting a lot more pressure on him this weekend. Busch is a four-time winner at Richmond, and he won the race here last May. Gordon has two career wins in Richmond, but his last one came in 2000.
“I feel like we have a couple of different jobs,” Gordon said. “No. 1 is just win the race, and that’s our job every weekend, but we need to put pressure on our competitors We never go out there focused on one other individual.”
Gordon might not be focused on Busch tonight, but he will certainly be aware of him.
Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442