NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Only seven drivers -- Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne -- can rest a little easier heading into Saturday's night Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, when the field is reset for the Chase for the Cup.
Sure, they'll all be fighting for a victory to improve their position going into NASCAR's postseason, but they have each secured a place in the playoffs. Of the seven drivers, only Kahne currently doesn't have a spot in the top 10. Instead, he's locked in as at least one of the two wild cards. He's 10 points outside the top 10 and still eligible for a top-10 spot.
For the remaining five spots, there are 10 drivers who are on the bubble and still have a mathematical shot at making the Chase. Six of the 11 will end up on the outside looking in, left holding only the remains of their burst bubble.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. at seventh in the standings, only 18 points behind sixth-place Kenseth, is the safest bet to secure his spot this weekend. A finish of 32nd or better, 33rd with at least one lap led or 34th with the most laps led will clinch him a spot among the top 10. In 28 starts at Richmond, Earnhardt has three victories and 12 tops 10s. He finished 10th in the race earlier this year and last visited Victory Lane in May 2006.
Joey Logano, who is currently eighth in points (21 points behind Earnhardt), can secure his place in the top 10 with a finish of 11th or better, 12th with at least one lap led or 13th with the most laps led. In April, he posted his best finish (third) at Richmond in nine starts. He has one other top-five finish at the track (September 2010).
Greg Biffle sits two points behind Logano in ninth. He can clinch a top-10 spot to start the Chase with a finish of ninth or better, 10th with at least one lap led or 11th and the most +laps led. Biffle is winless in 22 attempts at the .75-mile track, but he has two top-five and six top-10 finishes. In the April race, he finished a disappointing 36th after spinning out.
Kurt Busch can grab a spot in the top 10 by winning, finishing second with at least one lap led or finishing third with the most laps led. Busch, who is 10th in the standings eight points behind Biffle and six points in front of Jeff Gordon in 11th, won the September 2005 race to go along with eight top 10s in 25 starts. He finished ninth during his last visit.
Logano (August Michigan race) and Biffle (June Michigan race) each have wins so far during the regular season and could grab a wild card if they fall out of the top 10. Without a win, Earnhardt and Busch would miss the postseason altogether if they dropped from the top 10.
Gordon sits outside the top 10 in 11th place, only six points behind Busch. He would clinch at least a wild-card spot with a victory at Richmond. Without a win this weekend, a strong performance could still propel him into a top-10 spot. In 41 visits to the Virginia track, he owns two wins (the last one in 2000), 16 top fives and 25 top 10s. He finished 11th in April.
A Richmond victory would allow Martin Truex Jr. to obtain one of the two wild card spots. He currently holds the provisional No. 2 wild-card spot and could clinch it even without a victory. He also remains eligible for a spot in the top 10, just 15 points behind Busch in 10th. He finished 17th in April and has two top 10s in 15 starts.
Ryan Newman could grab at least a wild card with a win, but could still capture a spot in the postseason without a win -- if he gets some help. Being only 20 points behind Busch in 10th, Newman could still land in the top 10.
Three drivers -- Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard -- all still have mathematical shots at making the Chase, but they need more than strong performances. They need to win and rely on the unlocked-in drivers in front of them to stumble for them to have a chance to make the Chase.
NASCAR's No. 2 series has played host to some of the most exciting on-track action with a unique blend of veteran drivers and those trying to earn a seat in the Sprint Cup Series.
The first 999 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has seen many epic battles occur and records fall, but its 1,000th race, Friday night's Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway should provide a showdown that's worthy of its predecessors.
Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon have temporarily separated themselves from the rest of the contenders, but the competition for the title is still close with nine races remaining and there could be plenty of shakeups between now and Homestead in November.
In six series starts at Richmond, Hornish's best finish is a fifth in April 2012. He also has a pair of seventh-place performances, including one in April 2013.
"In the last race, we had a fast Ford Mustang, but had difficulty in the pits," Hornish said. "Since then we've improved our short-track program, and our pit crew has been rock steady. Looking at the spring race here and knowing where we are as a team, I could not be any more optimistic."
The former IndyCar Series champion and Indy 500 winner has led 83 laps at the .75-mile track, his third-highest total among all tracks in the series. He's led 114 at Las Vegas and 91 at Iowa. With the Sprint Cup Series, he has only visited Richmond seven times, finishing a personal-best sixth in May 2009.
Dillon has competed at Richmond four times in the Nationwide Series with a best finish of sixth in September 2012. His other finishes are ninth, 26th and 35th. An accident in April's race ended his day early and relegated him to a 35th-place finish. His driver rating of 87.5 is slightly better than Hornish's 86.3.
Hornish leads Dillon by 10 points with Elliott Sadler 16 points further back. Regan Smith (-29) and Justin Allgaier (-47) round out the top five.
YOUTH PREVAIL IN TRUCKS
On Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Chase Elliott claimed his first career victory in the Camping World Truck Series in only his sixth start.
In doing so, Elliott became the youngest driver in series history to win a race at 17 years, nine months and four days old. He eclipsed Ryan Blaney who previously set the mark last year at Iowa Speedway, who was 18 years, eight months and 15 days old.
Blaney also won at Pocono earlier this year. Elliott and Blaney join Kyle Larson (Rockingham) and Jeb Burton (Texas) as four drivers under the age of 21 who have won in 2013. Previous to this season, only one time in series history had a driver under 21 won a race -- Blaney's victory last season at Iowa.
This Sunday, the trucks return to Iowa for the Fan Appreciation 200 where Elliott will compete in his third consecutive race.
In Elliott's first six truck races of his career, he has finished no lower than sixth, which came in his first contest at Martinsville. Since then he has finishes of fifth (Rockingham), fourth (Dover), fifth (Iowa), fifth (Bristol) and first last weekend for an average finishing position of 4.3.
He has led laps in three of the six races for a total of 100 laps, including 22 in his race-winning performance in Canada where he finished with personal-best driver rating of 132.4.
After Iowa, Elliott, who is currently 21st in the standings, plans to make two more starts this season in the No. 94 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet -- at Martinsville and Phoenix.