Race: Federated Auto Parts 400
Date: Saturday September 7, 2013
Track: Richmond International Raceway
Time: 5:30 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Atlanta was quite the race, with nearly 30 lead changes throughout the night. Drivers fought both loose and tight conditions as they battled with tire wear. It seemed like the bottom line was the best place to be, especially for drivers like Kevin Harvick, who found some way to make their cars go below the yellow line and then take off. Other drivers struggled all over the track regardless of position. Then there were the ones who simply blew up. Brad Keselowski was one of those guys. He was running strong all night. He was leading the race, as a matter of fact, when his engine just let go. He went down 2 cylinders before he eventually retired to the garage. Keselowski definitely pushed his car as far as it would go, as every lap and every point matters with only 1 race left to the Chase. Blowing his motor, though, essentially knocked him out of any contention he had left to make it into the Chase on either points or the wild card factor.
This weekend, there are still several drivers hoping to get into the Chase as we head to the short track of Richmond International for the last race of the regular season in Sprint Cup. This weekend is sure to be one of a lot of tempers and risky moves as these guys battle to clench a position in the Chase for the championship. As it stands, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. are your 2 wild card drivers because of their wins. Although Jeff Gordon is ahead of these guys in points, he has yet to win a race, thus knocking him out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With that kind of status at risk, I bet Gordon is going to give it his all this weekend. He finished a respectable 6th at Atlanta, but it just wasn’t enough to get him into the top 10. As it stands, he is 6 points out of 10th place right now. He’s going to need a heck of a finish or a win to get him into the Chase.
Richmond may just be that place. This short track is a favorite of both drivers and fans alike. Although much different than Atlanta, it still brings excitement and attitude from these drivers in the form of intense short track racing. You better believe that there will be no give and take driving this weekend. It’s all about the taking as these guys know that this is their absolute last shot at the Chase. Kahne, Gordon, Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman are all contenders for those spots and they are certainly going to bring it on Saturday night. Richmond is interesting because it’s bigger than the other 2 notable short tracks. Bristol and Martinsville are smaller, leaving Richmond as the odd man out. It’s a mile oval with 14 degree banking in the corners, 8 degrees on the frontstretch, and 2 degrees on the backstretch. The frontstretch comes in at 1290 feet with the backstretch being over 400 feet shorter at 860 feet. It’s a short track that still allows the leader to get away from the rest of the drivers.
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This race is contingent upon several factors. They are a little different this weekend since it’s the last race before the Chase is locked down. Tires play quite a role here as they did last weekend at Atlanta. Fresh tires help these guys get through the lap traffic that always seems to slow everyone down very quickly here. They help the leader pull away as well. Pit strategy is going to be a major factor like we saw last weekend. Like I mentioned with Atlanta, we are going to see 2, 3, or even 4 different strategies running at the same time as these guys throw some Hail Mary attempts to gain track position. If we take a look at who is going to do the best with all of these factors, I think that we are going to see a huge push from several drivers, but Kyle Busch is going to be the man this weekend. Although I’d like to say that Jeff Gordon or Ryan Newman are going to win because they need it so badly, their history here is not in victory lane. Gordon undoubtedly will run strong. You can never count him out on the short tracks, but he’s more of a mile guy when it comes down to it. Busch has something figured out here. He is the defending winner from 2012 and also has 3 other wins throughout the years. Other strong drivers to watch are going to be Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. They both have multiple wins here, but the thing about it is that this year has been cruel to them both. For Johnson, it’s namely been the last several weeks with some really weird equipment issues and wrecks. For Hamlin, however, it’s been a series of bad luck runs from the beginning. This year is just not his Chase year. Here are your potential winners for this weekend:
My Pick to Win: Kyle Busch
Middle of the Road Pick: Kurt Busch
Dark Horse Prediction: Brian Vickers
Vickers is coming off the good news of a full time ride with MWR in 2014. He’s also quite a force to be reckoned with. In my opinion, he has never gotten the attention he’s deserved. He will quietly make his way to the front of the pack on Saturday night. Kurt Busch is another one to watch. He’s been a contender all year and just has not been able to put a good solid race together. I think that he will finish top 10, if not higher. Other notables include Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. They are both very solid drivers at this track with Harvick being the Spring winner of this race. Look for this group of cars to be up front all night.
That being said, this is it, folks! This is the end of the regular season. It’s time to see who’s got it and who doesn’t. The points are still up in the air for quite a few guys, and Richmond is the battleground where we are going to get all of this sorted out.
Here are your current top 12 after last week’s race:
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Carl Edwards
5. Kyle Busch
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Joey Logano
9. Greg Biffle
10. Kurt Busch
11. Jeff Gordon
12. Kasey Kahne
As stated, Gordon is currently not in the Chase despite his 11th place spot. Kahne and 13th place Martin Truex Jr. hold those coveted positions because of their wins. This weekend will definitely be one to remember as these guys do some serious risk taking and serious battling on the track to determine the best 12 drivers in the Sprint Cup series!