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Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond 

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Saturday, 7:30pm on ABC

400 laps/300 miles. That is all that stands between the drivers and NASCAR’s postseason. In perhaps the most competitive battle to make The Chase since it began back in 2004, ten drivers will take the green flag tonight looking to claim one of the remaining six open Chase spots. This .75 mile Asphalt track will provide plenty of drama that will change the outlook of the final ten races throughout the night.

There may be a lot going on in the race tonight but pay close attention to the restarts. As is typical with short tracks, it will be difficult to pass so the restarts will provide drives with rare opportunities to make up a lot of ground in a short span of time. There will be a lot of urgency when taking the green flag. This week the cliche “cautions breed cautions” should prove to be as true as ever.

Last year’s race provided us with one of the most impressive comebacks in the sport. While there have been times in which NASCAR drivers have moved into that “there’s no effing way we are losing this game mode” mindset before, like Tony Stewart winning the title in 2011, it’s far more rare in this sport than it is in others. However last year Jeff Gordon found that extra gear.

Starting second Jeff quickly fell back in the pack due to a poor handling Chevrolet eventually being a lap down. When a late caution flag waved for rain Gordon was one of eight drivers to come down pit road while guys like Kyle Busch stayed out hoping for a rain shortened race. Instead they went back to green flag racing. That is when Jeff flipped the switched and drove his way back through the field to finished second. Meanwhile Kyle fell to 16th on old tires and Jeff edged him for that final Chase spot by just three points.

This year we should be in for plenty more drama. It will constantly change throughout the night. Every wreck is a big deal. Even if it involves drivers that have absolutely no Chase hopes. There will be many different strategies going on tonight. With a clear forecast there may be a few phantom debris cautions but nothing out of the ordinary, like rain, will help anyone. This is a big night for so many guys. Let’s take a look at how the bubble guys stack up.

7th Dale Jr. 0 wins +37pts on 11th

Almost assured a spot inside the top 10. However, Jr. has shown an uncanny ability to find trouble at the worst possible time. Jr. will likely just need to make it to roughly halfway to find himself in The Chase. If he were to wreck early he could find himself on the outside looking in, at nights end.

8th Joey Logs 1 win +16 on 11th

9th Greg Biffle 1 win +14 on 11th

Both of these guys have wins that could be their ace in the hole. If either, or both, have poor runs tonight they could still land themselves a wildcard spot but will need to finish ahead of guys with wins currently on the outside looking in like Truex Jr., Newman, or someone like Brad Keselowski and/or Jamie McMurray that could go to victory lane and catapult them up the standings. They also may have to out-finish each other if they were to both drop out of the top 10.

10th Kurt Busch 0 wins +6 on 11th

I’d be very nervous if I was a Kurt Busch fan. No wins and driving tendencies that can lead him to find trouble.

11th Jeff Gordon 0 wins -6 on 10th

Jeff obviously knows what it takes to squeak into The Chase but I’m sure he would like tonight to go a little more smoothly than it did last year. No rain in the forecast is already a big leg up for him to achieve that.

12th Kasey Kahne 2 wins -10 on 10th

Kahne is already guaranteed a spot in The Chase it just depends on whether he can race his way back into the top 10 and keep those bonus points or if he will have to cash them in and start with a disadvantage next week in Chicago.

13th Martin Truex Jr. 1 win -15 on 10th

Between driving with a broken wrist, being the guy everyone is really looking to beat, and the whole no wins on oval tracks in forever; Truex has a lot to be nervous about tonight.

14th Ryan Newman 1 win -20 on 10th

I don’t think there is anyone on this list that wants this more than Ryan. His eight wins in 2003 spurned the creation of The Chase. 10 years later he has suffered stomach punch after stomach punch and now will look to prove a lot of people wrong by racing his way in.

15th Brad Keselowski 0 wins -28 on 10th

16th Jamie McMurray 0 wins -39 on 10th

Obviously Brad has the better pedigree but Jamie Mac is far from out of this thing. With a win by either of these guys they could shock everyone and wind up in contention for a championship. Sure they will also need some help to jump ahead of Newman and Truex, but it’s far from impossible.

There are too many possibilities to cover them all. The guys on the outside looking in, would love to see Kurt drop out of the top 10 while Kahne races his way back in. The guys with wins currently on the good side of the bubble, would love to see Kahne remain on the outside to force him to cash in his bonus points for a wildcard spot. There will be an overwhelming number of rooting interests that will constantly change over the course of the race... it's going to be a wild one.

If there wasn't already enough to pay attention to let's figure out how to make some money tonight, should you feel the need to even further up the ante.  

Stay Away From:

Clint Bowyer +650

This #15 team has been relying far too heavily on this race. For several weeks now they have been saying they just want to assure themselves of a spot in The Chase before letting Clint fly freely at Richmond. Never put all your eggs in one basket. All that “smart” points racing will equate to this guy starting with exactly the same amount of points as the wildcard winners, congrats.

Kurt Busch 8-1

If being winless and just six points too the good for the 10th and final playoff spot wasn’t scary enough, Kurt will have to overcome a Richmond track where he has posted an average finish of just 17.92 in his 25 career races, including just four top 5’s. Maybe the biggest factor Kurt will have to overcome? His instincts. The Busch brothers have shown that they are both missing the big picture gene. I can see it now, Kurt makes a dumb move late in the race trying to get the win taking himself out of the race and The Chase.

Kasey Kahne 11-1

11-1 just simply isn’t good enough odds for the guy with the 22nd best average finish among active drivers are Richmond (one spot behind Kurt). Then factor in that he is starting 18th and that he will be points racing to try and sneak back into the top 10 to make sure he receives bonus points for those two hard earned wins.

Joey Logano 16-1

This is rather surprising. Back in July Logs suffered back to back 40th place finishes at Daytona and NHMS dropping him to 18th in points. Since he has finished 8th, 7th, 7th, 1st, 5th, and 2nd, jumping him into 8th and currently inside The Chase cutoff of 10th. His one win may keep him in as a wildcard if things break correctly even with a poor effort tonight. Even if he drops completely out I wouldn’t consider this season a loss for this young driver on a new team. Although if Brad also fails to reach the postseason it would really put a lot of pressure on the entire Penske team heading into 2014.

Dale Jr. 25-1

While at 25-1 Jr. does have some value, he will be relegated to racing safely tonight. He needs to at least survive the early stages of the race. After roughly halfway he may be able to make a move, but the goal tonight isn’t to win it’s to get in.

Best Bets:

Brad Keselowski 7-1

Brad kicked off his biggest weekend of 2013 with a Nationwide Series win last night at Richmond. Tonight he starts 3rd and in desperate need of a win. Even with a win Brad will probably need some help to get in but you can bet your ass Brad and his crew chief Paul Wolfe won’t be holding anything back tonight. It’s win or bust for the reigning champs.

Jeff Gordon +750

As I stated before Jeff and that #24 team, know how to get the job done in this last race of the regular season. If he wants to get in he doesn’t need a win this year, but it would certainly guarantee himself a spot. He has won here twice prior and is starting on the pole in tonights race. They will be on a mission tonight. I picture him leading many green flag laps tonight maybe even going wire to wire, Jimmie Johnson style.

Ryan Newman 33-1

Win and he’s in. He has won here before and owns the 6th best average finish with 11.78. While the word is Newman has a deal in the works with RCR he still has a lot to prove and a lot of people to prove wrong.

Best Value Bets:

Jimmie Johnson 10-1

This is an odd week for Jimmie Johnson betters. While at 10-1 he provides a shitload of value for a driver/team of the #48’s caliber. But when you combine the fact that he is locked in, starting last, and just had a new baby, his head my not be totally in tonights race. However the ace in the hole is the fact that without a win he will be 2nd in points when the Chase opens up in Chicago. I feel like this team is going to roll the dice early with some strategy and let things fall where they may. They will certainly be going after the extra bonus points but to get from the back to the front at a short track you will need to hit on the right strategy. If they swing and miss early you may not hear from them all night. Either way 10-1 for Jimmie Johnson, yes please.

Denny Hamlin 11-1

While 99% of me believes Denny is done being competitive in 2013 there is that 1% of me that thinks this two time Richmond winner, starting 6th, could capture another victory at his home track. It would be bittersweet for Hamlin and this #11 team. And would provide them with something to build off of moving forward.

Jamie McMurray 40-1

Why not? Sure he has struggled at Richmond throughout his career but I haven’t heard anyone even mention his name as a possible Chase driver this week. Nobody believes in him. He is starting 7th and has nothing but the word “win” on his mind. I’ll happily take 40-1 odds on that.

Jeff Burton 75-1

A possible karma filled longshot bet. Jeff was just informed he will not be returning to the #31 car in 2014. That leaves him potentially jobless and being 46 years old and outside the top 20 in points he may need to show some people some things over the next 11 races. There is no better chance for him to do that than at his home track.

My Pick:

Kyle Busch 6-1

Simply put, he is the best at Richmond. He has four career Cup victories and 12 top 5 finishes in 17 career races good for an average finish of 6.53. It’s what made last year's collapse all that more surprising. This year Kyle is locked in and while his mindset is always win or bust, that strategy is the right one to play for this #18 team that is locked into The Chase. With another win he can jump ahead of Jimmie Johnson for wins on the year giving him an edge at the start of The Chase. Kyle has been racing very well and has some momentum behind him. He knows how to get the job done here and will be looking for some Richmond revenge to make up for last years disaster here.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

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