Richmond, VA - While it seems like we just started, we have reached the final race of the regular NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the teams head to Richmond International Raceway for the finale before the Chase for the Championship starts in Chicagoland.
There are eight drivers locked into the top-10 spots in the Chase with Brad Keselowski locked into no less than a wildcard spot and possibly the top-10. Technically there are just three spots up for grabs at Richmond this weekend with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin the front runners for those spots. Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose and David Ragan can clinch a spot with a victory on Saturday night.
Richmond is always a fun race to watch for fans and this one should be no exception. The track is wide enough to allow drivers plenty of room to stay out of trouble, except for maybe coming off of Turn 4. Solid pitstops are critical as mistakes can easily put you a lap down. Drivers depend heavily on their spotters, with the track being just 0.75 miles even a minor mistake can prove costly.
With this weekend being the 10th anniversary of the tragic events that struck our country on Sept. 11th, I am looking forward to the special tributes RIR has for our military, NYPD, NYFD members and all first responders who gave so much that day with many paying the ultimate sacrifice. I am sure it will be an emotional evening for all in attendance, but just like 10 years ago, on that horrific day, I will always remember where I was at for the 10th anniversary. Never Forget!!
Kyle Busch - Busch disappointed many owners at Bristol a couple of weeks ago since he has "owned" the track for the last couple of years. Richmond is another track that Busch has excelled at in his 13 career starts. Busch has a remarkable 11 top-five finishes in those 13 starts - including three victories. He and teammate Denny Hamlin dominated the spring race at RIR with Busch coming out on top and Hamlin second.
Alternate pick: Tony Stewart - Stewart improved his cushion for 10th place in the standings, but still needs to run well at Richmond to make the Chase field. He came out of nowhere in the Atlanta race to finish third behind Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Stewart hasn't run as well at RIR over the last couple of seasons, but he did manage a top-10 in the spring race. He has three wins and 16 top-10 finishes at RIR in 25 career starts.
Ryan Newman - Newman finished 20th in the spring race, but he also didn't have the momentum he seems to have at the moment. While he could be someone owners shy away from this weekend, I see him with another strong finish to add to his 11 top-10 finishes at RIR.
Clint Bowyer - While Bowyer likely saw his Chase hopes slam the wall at Atlanta thanks to Juan Pablo Montoya, there still is a scenario possible that would put him in the Chase. One thing is sure, Bowyer will fight until the checkered flag on Saturday with the hope everything falls into place for the No. 33 team. In just 11 starts at RIR, Bowyer has six top-10 finishes, but will need a victory Saturday to stay alive for the Chase.
Alternate pick: A.J. Allmendinger – Allmendinger sits 13th in points and like several others still has the chance of making the Chase. He has not done well statistically speaking over his career at RIR, but his only top-10 finishes have come in his last two race here. Regardless of whether he makes the Chase or not, one thing for sure is Allmendinger has prooved many wrong about his skill to compete at the Cup level.
Paul Menard – Just throwing Menard out there this week with the hope he can improve on his performance of late. He has just one top-10 in his last five starts since his win at IMS to go along with an average finish at RIR of 28th place. So this clearly is a "shot in the dark" but I figure it's worth a chance.
Alternate pick: Bobby Labonte – Labonte struggled at Atlanta last week, losing control of the car with no contact not once but twice on his way to a 38th place finish. He does have 10 top-10 finishes in 37 career starts at RIR, but his last one came in 2005. Clearly a top-10 would be a tremendous finish, but lets not forget this is Group C and a top-20 is acceptable.