NASCAR At Richmond 2012: TV Viewer's Guide For Chase Cutoff Race

Once the Richmond NASCAR race finally starts (it's going to be delayed by rain for awhile before it airs on ABC), here's some storylines and favorites to watch in tonight's race:

Storylines

Gordon vs. Busch, Busch vs. Gordon

There are numerous scenarios which involve various drivers sneaking into the Chase. Essentially, though, tonight boils down to Kyle Busch vs. Jeff Gordon. The final wild card spot will likely be claimed by one of these two and each is well aware that they control their own destiny.

After his lack of aggressiveness cost him a potential win last week at Atlanta, Gordon is intent on making sure he has no regrets when he leaves Richmond. This strategy entails Gordon starting near the front – he qualified second – trying to lead as many laps as possible and putting himself in position where he can contend for the victory in the closing laps.

For Busch, his game plan is far more conservative. He enters this evening knowing that as long as Gordon doesn't win and he doesn't finish too far behind the No. 24 car, he'll be one of the 12 drivers competing for the championship. However, there is such a thing as being too conservative, and that is something Busch needs to be mindful of tonight.

Carl Edwards Needs A Miracle

As he said himself, Carl Edwards needs an "insane" race to unfold if he is to miraculously make the Chase. This means both Gordon and Busch need something bad to happen to them which has each finishing far down the running order. At the same time, Edwards needs to go out and win – something he has yet to do this year.

And to that end, the Roush Fenway Racing driver is fully capable of doing so, as he led over half the laps here in the spring and would have likely gone to Victory Lane if it weren't for a late-race penalty for jumping a restart. But again, even if Edwards wins, he still needs help – and lots of it.

The Quest For More Bonus Points

As eight drivers compete for what is basically one playoff spot, those who have secured a Chase berth are competing for something else: Bonus points. Those three bonus points that are awarded for each regular season win are pivotal and ultimately could prove the difference between winning and losing the championship (see: Edwards, Carl). Furthermore, with nothing to lose, those already in the Chase can go all-out tonight in their quest to win and not have to worry about the ramifications of a poor finish.

Worth Noting

• Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s pole-winning run on Friday marked the first time he has ever won a pole on a short track.

• Tonight Ken Schrader will make his 750th career Sprint Cup start tonight, while Travis Kvapil will make career start No. 200.

• Despite having been reconfigured and expanded from its initial layout, Richmond has been hosting NASCAR's top series since 1953 – making it the second-oldest track on the Cup schedule, trailing only Martinsville.

Favorites

1. Kyle Busch

To say Kyle Busch is good at Richmond would be a gross understatement, as he has won four of the last seven races and owns a sizzling average finish of 4.7. And as noted above, the only potential handicap against picking Busch is he doesn't have to win tonight and might be content to play it safe and finish somewhere in the top 10.

2. Carl Edwards

The same chassis Carl Edwards dominated with at Richmond in the spring will be the same car he wheels tonight. In theory, this suggests he should again be up front and in contention like just as he was in May.

3. Jeff Gordon

This is a Game 7 moment for Jeff Gordon, where anything he can do to score the win is what he must do. Knowing this, expect the four-time champ to be aggressive and pull out all the stops to save his season, all in a desperate attempt to qualify for the Chase.

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