Virginia's for Lovers but Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting - The NASCAR Sprint Cup Wonderful Pistachios 400 Race Primer

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 09: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the Sprint Cup Series Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 9, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

For teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a season's body of work culminates at 26 races. You're either in the Chase for the Championship or you're on the outside looking in.

The Chase essentially trimmed the season by a fourth to make room for the playoffs. This effectively gave teams just 26 races to stake a claim to the Sprint Cup trophy, something officially done by nine drivers prior to Saturday's Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth have already punched their tickets to the Chase with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart just barely hanging on to provisional Chase spots nine and ten.

Both drivers are winless thus far in 2011, leaving Denny Hamlin with the only remaining provisional wild card spot (Keselowski clinched the other at Bristol).

Richmond is the absolute best track to host the final race of the regular season with the .75-mile oval delivering some of the best racing of the year. It's a short track that's confused itself for a speedway and the result is tight racing and even closer finishes. The race to the Chase is just an added bonus to Saturday night's race.

Heading into the final race of the regular season, here are the clinch scenarios for the remaining three Chase spots. The stats are presented by NASCAR for your consideration:

#88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt is currently 25 points ahead of 11th place. Regardless of any other driver's finish, Earnhardt will clinch if he finishes:
· 20th or better
· 21st or better and leads at least one lap
· 22nd or better and leads the most laps

#14-Tony Stewart

Stewart is currently 23 points ahead of 11th place. Regardless of any other driver's finish, Stewart will clinch if he finishes:
· 18th or better
· 19th or better and leads at least one lap
· 20th or better and leads the most laps

A number of different finishes affect the Wild Card scenario.

- With a victory, #11-Denny Hamlin will earn at least a Wild Card spot.
- With a victory, #27-Paul Menard will earn a Wild Card spot.
- With a victory AND entry into the top 20, #9-Marcos Ambrose or #6-David Ragan will earn a Wild Card spot. Both drivers are currently outside the top 20. Ambrose is seven points outside the top 20; Ragan is 20 points outside the top 20.

All drivers through 23rd place in the series standings remain eligible for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Aside from the scenarios listed above, those without an already-clinched Chase spot need a win, a top 20 spot and various finishes from other drivers to earn a Chase spot.

This leaves us with two primary stories at play on Saturday night.

The drivers currently on the outside of the Chase bubble are looking for a win-to-get-in scenario while those locked in are looking for one more valuable win. That's because every win in the first 26 races nets the winner three bonus points going into the Chase's first race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Wild Card drivers are not allotted bonus points, meaning Keselowski will be chasing Stewart and Earnhardt hard. Keselowski is 11th in the standings and 23 points behind Stewart for 10th.

Kyle Busch leads the Series with four wins while the hard-charging Gordon and Keselowski have three each. Kenseth has two wins. Harvick also picked up three in the first half of the season with Johnson, Edwards, Kurt Busch, Newman and Hamlin picking up a single victory.

The favorites entering Saturday night's race can be found after the jump.

 

RICHMOND-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet)

  • One win, one top five, six top 10s
  • Average finish of 9.5
  • Average Running Position of 10.5, fourth-best
  • Driver Rating of 97.9, fourth-best
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.499 mph, seventh-fastest
  • 3,471 Laps in the Top 15 (78.7%), seventh-most
  • 345 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), fourth-most

Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)

  • One win, nine top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole
  • Average finish of 14.4
  • Average Running Position of 15.2, 10th-best
  • Driver Rating of 86.6, 12th-best
  • 613 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
  • 3,267 Laps in the Top 15 (62.7%), eighth-most
  • 298 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Kurt Busch (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge)

  • One win, three top fives, six top 10s
  • Average finish of 18.0
  • Average Running Position of 14.6, ninth-best
  • Driver Rating of 91.2, ninth-best
  • 272 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.527 mph, fifth-fastest
  • 3,114 Laps in the Top 15 (59.8%), 10th-most
  • 323 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota)

  • Three wins, 11 top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole
  • Average finish of 4.9
  • Average Running Position of 7.1, second-best
  • Driver Rating of 116.0, second-best
  • 440 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.938 mph, second-fastest
  • 4,641 Laps in the Top 15 (89.1%), second-most
  • 369 Quality Passes, second-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet)

  • Three wins, eight top fives, 10 top 10s
  • Average finish of 14.3
  • Average Running Position of 15.8, 11th-best
  • Driver Rating of 84.2, 13th-best
  • 265 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
  • 678 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
  • 275 Quality Passes, 13th-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet)

  • Two wins, 14 top fives, 23 top 10s; five poles
  • Average finish of 14.8
  • Average Running Position of 13.1, seventh-best
  • Driver Rating of 97.8, fifth-best
  • 269 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.516 mph, sixth-fastest
  • 3,492 Laps in the Top 15 (67.0%), sixth-most
  • 282 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota)

  • Two wins, six top fives, seven top 10s; two poles
  • Average finish of 7.5
  • Series-best Average Running Position of 5.2
  • Series-best Driver Rating of 120.4
  • Series-high 493 Fastest Laps Run
  • Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 117.024 mph
  • 4,215 Laps in the Top 15 (95.6%), third-most
  • 317 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet)

  • One win, five top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
  • Average finish of 12.0
  • Average Running Position of 7.7, third-best
  • Driver Rating of 110.2, third-best
  • 358 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.801 mph, third-fastest
  • Series-high 4,768 Laps in the Top 15 (91.5%)
  • Series-high 420 Quality Passes

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Power of Pride Chevrolet)

  • Three wins, five top fives, seven top 10s; two poles
  • Average finish of 16.5
  • Average Running Position of 16.2, 12th-best
  • Driver Rating of 88.7, 10th-best
  • 173 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.332 mph, 11th-fastest
  • 2,843 Laps in the Top 15 (54.6%), 12th-most
  • 285 Quality Passes, 11th-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 4 Red Bull Toyota)

  • One win, three top fives, six top 10s; one pole
  • Average finish of 17.9
  • Driver Rating of 88.2, 11th-best
  • 258 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
  • 617 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.365 mph, 10th-fastest
  • 2,978 Laps in the Top 15 (57.2%), 11th-most
  • 291 Quality Passes, 10th-most

Mark Martin (No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet)

  • One win, 17 top fives, 27 top 10s; four poles
  • Average finish of 12.2
  • Average Running Position of 13.4, eighth-best
  • Driver Rating of 92.2, eighth-best
  • 149 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.482 mph, eighth-fastest
  • 3,169 Laps in the Top 15 (60.8%), ninth-most

 

Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet)

  • One win, five top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole
  • Average finish of 11.8
  • Average Running Position of 11.1, fifth-best
  • Driver Rating of 92.6, seventh-best
  • 586 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.415 mph, ninth-fastest
  • 4,177 Laps in the Top 15 (80.2%), fourth-most
  • 362 Quality Passes, third-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)

  • Three wins, nine top fives, 16 top 10s
  • Average finish of 11.0
  • Average Running Position of 12.2, sixth-best
  • Driver Rating of 95.9, sixth-best
  • 197 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
  • 627 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 116.612 mph, fourth-fastest
  • 3,637 Laps in the Top 15 (69.8%), fifth-most
  • 343 Quality Passes, fifth-most
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.