NASCAR Richmond 2013: Federated Auto Parts 400 viewer's guide

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

There are myriad story lines to follow as NASCAR concludes its regular season and drivers fight to gain entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

One of the few events where little attention is paid to the winner, the majority of the spotlight instead will shine on those who do and do not qualify for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Seven drivers enter Richmond having already clinched one of 12 slots available: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, all of whom are ensured of finishing in the top 10 in points. Then there is Kasey Kahne, ranked 12th, but at a minimum has secured a wild card and can still climb into the top 10.

This leaves 10 drivers competing for five spots with a variety of scenarios in play for how each can make the playoffs.

Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon are two such drivers on the Chase bubble, 10th and 11th in points, respectively. They will share the front row after Gordon took away the pole from Busch posting a time in qualifying that broke the track record.

"Well since Gordon is on pole he will lead probably the first lap," Busch said. "If we were on pole we would have lead the first lap and that is a two point swing. So we will see how that shakes out.

"I love these challenges and right now Gordon and I are one-two."

As the proceedings unfold Saturday night and it becomes clearer on who gets into the Chase the desperation level will increase for those not above the cutline. But does that mean a driver would resort to spinning out a competitor if meant making the playoffs?

"I'm not going to wreck a guy by just running straight in the back of him," Gordon said. "That's not racing. But if you're racing the guy, you guys make contact, then that's where you can start to draw the line or kind of understand the situation.

"You have to race as hard as you can, make the best choices you can, be smart about it. If you decide to make that big, aggressive move that ticks somebody off, do it and be ready for the consequences because you still got 10 weeks ahead of you. This is not the last race of the year."


However, not everyone agrees with Gordon's viewpoint.

Sitting seventh in points, Earnhardt will make the Chase for the third straight season as long as he finishes better than 32nd. But if he was in the predicament of needing a spot over a rival, he'd have no qualms about being forceful.

"I'd have to do whatever it took to make the Chase," he said. "You work all year long for an opportunity to run in the Chase to be part of the championship. I don't know that anybody could blame you for not taking that opportunity.

"That's why we got bumpers on these cars. Sometimes you got to use 'em."

How aggressive a driver is could prove to be the deciding factor, especially on a late-race caution and the subsequent restart. Because the outside groove is noticeably slower than the inside lane contact is inevitable as drivers jockey for position.

In the race here in May, Kevin Harvick on fresher tires charged from seventh to the lead within two laps as chaos broke out in front of him.

And if you know you're Chase bound, a different mentality exists altogether. For them they have little to lose and Richmond represents an opportunity to aggressively pursue victory and the three bonus points that come with winning.

"It's a weekend for us to have nothing to race for but a win," Kyle Busch said. "It's sort of like an All-Star race I guess -- steering wheel or go home."

Favorites

1) Kyle Busch

With four Richmond wins to his name, no active driver has more victories at Richmond than Busch, who also owns an average finish of 6.5 in 17 starts on the D-shaped oval.

2) Clint Bowyer

In nine of the last 10 short track races, Bowyer has placed inside the top 10 including a win in this a race a year ago. He also led 113 laps and finished second here in the spring.

3) Brad Keselowski

Richmond isn't one of Keselowski's better tracks, as he's never led and never finished better than seventh. But in desperate need of win if he is to make the Chase the thinking is the defending Cup champion will go all-out for the win. Thus far the results have supported this theory, as he was fastest in opening practice and qualified third.

More from SB Nation:

Jimmie Johnson is a dad again

Tony Stewart's new ride for the weekend

Chase for the Sprint Cup scenarios

Gordon, Busch, Keselowski on Chase bubble

Longform: The good times and hard life of Dick Trickle

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