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The Chase Puzzle To Be Untangled Saturday Night

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 12 2015
Jeff Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson "have to be smart" at Richmond. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Jeff Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson “have to be smart” at Richmond. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

RICHMOND, Va. – Seizing every opportunity is critical to one’s success in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, but before the 16-driver field is set one more obstacle must be cleared – Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

buganalysisEleven drivers already are guaranteed berths in the field via one or more victories this season and maintaining a top-30 position in the standings.

Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have the most victories with four each. Richmond pole winner Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth follow with three each. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards each have two victories. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin are in the single victory department.

If Richmond produces a repeat winner, five positions will be available to winless drivers via points.

A first-time winner would reduce it to four. The last eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races have been won by either Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske drivers, so odds favor a repeat winner.

However, that doesn’t mean the tension among several drivers attempting to make the Chase field is intense. Jamie McMurray clinches a berth by simply starting the 400-lap race on the

Jamie McMurray appears to be a cinch to make the Chase. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Jamie McMurray appears to be a cinch to make the Chase. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

three-quarter-mile track. If there is a repeat winner, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon clinch a position regardless of where they finish.

“We have to be smart and not get too far outside our comfort zone and do things too crazy, but we also can’t be too conservative,” said Gordon, who qualified 23rd. “That is the downside of the position we are in. I would rather be in this position than like the ones on the outside looking in, but the advantage that they have is that they have nothing to lose and they can just go all out and not even worry about it. For us, we can’t necessarily do that and sometimes when you get conservative that is when you get yourself in trouble.”

Paul Menard needs only to finish 38th or better, while Clint Bowyer must finish no lower than 28th. Bowyer, however, can’t afford to take his position for granted. A poor performance by

Clint Bowyer is on shaky ground in Richmond. (RacinToday/HHP file photo)

Clint Bowyer is on shaky ground in Richmond. (RacinToday/HHP file photo)

him or a winless driver ahead of him could allow Aric Almirola or Kasey Kahne to overtake him. Bowyer qualified 26th, Almirola 24th and Kahne 20th.

A dozen drivers need to win to gain entrance into the Chase. Those 12 include Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. They will start 38th, 28th and 19th, respectively. If any of those three fail to secure a victory, it means Roush Fenway Racing will be excluded from the playoffs for the first time. Edwards, who before this year had driven only for Roush Fenway since entering NASCAR’s top-three series, said that surprised him because “I know how good those guys are.”

Edwards noted that everyone in Saturday night’s event was racing for something different. He said it was a “fun race” for his team because they were locked into the Chase.

“We get to go out and lay it all out on the line, take chances, try things with strategy or driving

Greg Biffle needs a victory on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Greg Biffle needs a victory on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

styles that maybe would be a little more risky and we wouldn’t do if we were in a championship battle,” Edwards said. “It’s neat to be able to be in that position because in this sport ,as competitive as it is, you don’t get those chances a lot just to go have a good time.”  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 12 2015
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