(Making the "Chase" is all on the line Saturday night at Richmond Int'l Raceway)
Wonderful Pistachios 400 Preview
It’s exactly what NASCAR had hoped for when the regular season began. Now with only one race left to decide what drivers will qualify for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, fourteen hold out hope of securing one of three remaining spots in Saturday night’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The introduction of the Wild Card element to this year’s Chase proceedings has increased the level of intrigue in the 2011 title race and given hope to a number of drivers and teams who under the old rules would have been out of the picture weeks ago.
It’s also brought added pressure to those trying to maintain a spot inside the Top 10 of the point standings, an accomplishment that brings with it an automatic berth in the ten race championship season.
Tony Stewart is one of those feeling the heat as he sits in the tenth and final transfer spot heading into Richmond and 23 points ahead of 11th place Denny Hamlin.
But Stewart refuses to give in to the pressure of trying to hold serve in the last race of the regular campaign.
“To be honest, I’ve never fallen into pressure,” Stewart said. “All thirteen years we’ve been here in the points, we’ve just strictly dealt with it one week at a time. That’s the easiest way to approach it. What you do this week is this week Then once this weekend is over and done, you worry about next week. It’s literally that simple for us.”
Ninth place Dale Earnhardt Jr. is taking a similar approach to Stewart as he tries to return to NASCAR’s playoffs for the first time in three years.
Despite having a mediocre outing in Atlanta last weekend, Earnhardt still has a relatively comfortable 25 point advantage over 11th place.
"We lost a little bit of ground and it's a little bit tighter going into Richmond, but we still feel pretty good," Earnhardt said after his Atlanta outing. "We should be able to go out there and make that happen."
Earnhardt needs to finish 20th or better Saturday night no matter what anyone else does and he’ll move on to the Chase. While he’s confident that can be done, Earnhardt isn’t completely sold on being able to challenge for a title once the playoffs begin.
“I still think we are relatively comfortable and doable,” Earnhardt said of qualifying for the playoffs. “We will just try to go in there and run better, and do better and I am not really worried about it. I don’t have room to worry about it as bad as we have been running. We need to get our crap together and get to running good. Or it doesn’t matter where we are in the Chase and doesn’t matter if we are in or not.”
Richmond Int’l Raceway
Track Size: .750-miles
Race Length: 400 laps
Banking/Frontstretch: 8 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 2 degrees
Banking/Corners: 14 degrees
2010 pole winner: Carl Edwards (127.762 mph)
2010 race winner: Denny Hamlin (104.096 mph, 9-11-10)
Track qualifying record: Brian Vickers (129.983 mph, 5-14-04)
Race record: Dale Jarrett (109.047 mph, 9-6-97)
There have been 110 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Richmond since the track opened in 1953.
The current 400-lap race length was established on the .542-mile measurement in March 1976.
Buck Baker won the pole in 1953.
There have been 48 different pole winners, led by Bobby Allison and Richard Petty (eight).
Jeff Gordon (five) leads active drivers with five poles.
47 different drivers have posted victories at Richmond, led by Richard Petty (13).
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Terry Labonte (three) lead active race winners.
Car owner Richard Petty has won 15 races at Richmond, more than any other team.
63 of 109 races have been won from the top five starting positions, including 22 from the pole.
The last driver to win from the pole was Kyle Busch in May 2010.
13 of the past 16 races have been won from the top 10, but three of the last six have been won from a starting position outside the top 10.
The furthest back in the field a race winner has started was 31st, by Clint Bowyer in 2008’s spring race.
Kyle Petty became the first third-generation NASCAR race winner when he won his first race, at Richmond, on Feb. 23, 1986. Richard Petty posted his first Richmond victory in 1961 and Lee won the very first Richmond race in 1953.
Three active drivers have an average finish inside the top 10: Kyle Busch (5.2), Denny Hamlin (8.0) and Clint Bowyer (9.8).
Five of the last six races have had a margin of victory less than one second.
Four drivers have come from outside the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup cut-off to make the Chase at Richmond:
- Jeremy Mayfield in 2004 made up a 55-point deficit
- Ryan Newman in 2005 made up a one-point deficit
- Kasey Kahne in 2006 made up a 30-point deficit
- Brian Vickers in 2009 made up a 20-point deficit
Who’s Hot at Richmond
Kyle Busch – Has already locked up the number one seed in the Chase and has nothing to race for Saturday night except a fifth win of the regular season. A three-time Richmond winner including last April’s victory and riding a streak of five straight Top 5 finishes into Saturday night’s race.
Denny Hamlin – If you’re looking for a home track advantage give it to Hamlin, who has excelled at Richmond since moving into the Sprint Cup Series. The Virginia native has two wins and a 7.5 average finish at the track in eleven career starts and has finished first and second the last two times out.
Clint Bowyer – His days at RCR seem numbered but Bowyer could give himself a much-needed pick me up with another good run Saturday night at a track where he’s been very successful. Won at Richmond in 2008 and has compiled the third best average finish in the last ten years with a 9.5 in eleven starts.
Brad Keselowski – Has a Wild Card wrapped up but would like to race his way into the Top 10 of the standings and use his wins a bonus points for Chase seeding. He’ll need to overcome what has been a rough Cup career at Richmond with a 14th place finish his best effort in four starts.
Paul Menard – A win and Menard is in the Chase as a Wild Card, but it probably won’t be an easy task based on his previous Richmond performance. A 28.3 average finish in nine starts includes a rough 37th place run back in April.
Jamie McMurray – Good days have been few and far between for McMurray this season. Richmond has never been one of his better tracks as the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s record of a 24.3 average finish in seventeen starts bears out.
Originally known as the Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds, Richmond
International Raceway held its first race in 1946 as a half-mile dirt track.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was April 19, 1953.
The spring 1964 race was run on a Tuesday night under temporary lighting.
The track name changed to Virginia State Fairgrounds in 1967.
The track surface was changed from dirt to asphalt between races in 1968.
The track name changed to Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in 1969.
Track was re-measured to a half-mile in April 1969; then to .542-mile in September.
The track was rebuilt as a three-quarters-mile D-shaped oval following the Feb. 21, 1988 race.
The first race under permanent lights was Sept. 7, 1991.
The first season with both races as night races was 1999.
There have been 271 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Virginia.
161 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Virginia.
There have been 18 race winners from Virginia in NASCAR’s three national series.
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