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Race Day: They’ll Be After The Bonus, Babies

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 12 2009
The race for the Chase comes to a conclusion tonight at Richmond Interntional Raceway.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The race for the Chase comes to a conclusion tonight at Richmond Interntional Raceway. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Many eyes in the grandstands at Richmond International Raceway for tonight’s Chevy Rock & Roll 400 will be on the rumble for the final Chase berths. But in the cockpits and pits, eyes will be on what could turn out to be a fairly important prize.

Yes, the really cool guitar trophy which goes to the winner of the R&R, but also those 10 bonus points which go with it.

This year, race victories have been spread around pretty evenly. As opposed to last season when Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were both approaching double-digit totals and, hence, triple-digit point leads for the start of the Chase, this year, nobody has more than four victories heading into Richmond.

That could make the 10 bonus points for tonight’s race to the Chase finale particularly coveted by Chasers.

Here are what some drivers are saying about those 10 Rock & Roll points.

Jimmie Johnson: “I feel that this is a really good track for us to get 10 (bonus) points. From the two Michigan races and even a shot at Bristol, we could have 20 or 30 more points here going into the Chase. I’d like to even things up with Mark (Martin, who has 40). I feel like he’ll be in the Chase and I’d like to start up there in that top seed and go for a fourth championship. So we’re excited and looking forward to it.”

Tony Stewart: “Our goal since being locked in has been to try to do what we can to win and get those 10 extra bonus points.  That’s our focus.  It’s all or nothing for us.  We’re not going to throw away a car trying to make a stupid mistake while trying to get those 10 points, but our goal is to go out and try to win the race.  More than that, you don’t want to end up with 43rd-place finishes, you want to end up with some momentum on your side after Richmond.”

Carl Edwards: “I don’t think about the bonus points too much. There’s nothing I can do about them.  I want to try to win this race here at Richmond. It would be nice to have 10 bonus points, but I think the chase will come down to the guy who has the least amount of bad days, just like it did last year and the year before. It comes down to not always the last 10 points you can get, but not losing those 100 points and having a bad night.”

Fast Facts

The Race: Chevy Rock & Roll 400

The Place: Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, Sept. 12

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400 laps/300 miles

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio/Channel 128.

2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch

2009 Polesitter: Mark Martin

Bubble Watching

Coming into Saturday night’s Chevy Rock & Roll 400, only four spots in the 12-driver field have been clinched. Those guaranteed berths in NASCAR’s “playoffs” have been nailed down by Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Wounded Warrior Chevrolet) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota).

That leaves eight spots open — and 11 drivers in the running.

Only 217 points separate fifth-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) from the last driver in Chase contention, 15th-place David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota).

When the situation is condensed around the 12th-place bubble, the outlook becomes even more uncertain.

Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), rolls cautiously into Richmond in 12th place, the second-straight week for the 2003 series champion to hold that position. Kenseth is trying to extend a remarkable streak that he co-holds with Jimmie Johnson; they are the only two drivers who have qualified for the Chase every year. Johnson already has a sixth-straight Chase berth secured, so that leaves it to Kenseth to keep pace.

It won’t be easy. Kenseth has one Richmond victory, that coming in September 2002. Saturday night he’ll be fighting off three guys close behind in the points. Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) is only 20 points behind, while Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) is only 37 back. The last driver still in mathematical contention is 15th-place Reutimann, an obvious long shot, as he is 132 points behind Kenseth.

Above Kenseth in the standings, there is also nervousness: 10th-place Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet) is only 69 points ahead of 13th-place Vickers while 11th-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) is 68 ahead of Vickers, a former champion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series champion trying to qualify for the Chase for the first time.

The scenarios

Carl Edwards — 5th place

Edwards is 105 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 24th or better; 25th and leads at least one lap; 27th and leads most laps.

Kasey Kahne — 6th

Kahne is currently 96 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 21st or better; 23rd and leads at least one lap; 24th and leads most laps

Kurt Busch — 7th

Busch is currently 95 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 20th or better; 22nd and leads at least one lap; 24th and leads most laps

Juan Pablo Montoya — 8th

Montoya is currently 88 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 18th or better; 20th and leads at least one lap; 21st and leads the most laps.

Ryan Newman — 9th

Newman is currently 81 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 16th or better; 17th and leads at least one lap; 19th and leads the most laps.

Mark Martin — 10th

Martin is currently 69 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 12th or better 14th and leads at least one lap; 15th and leads the most laps.

Greg Biffle — 11th

Biffle is currently 68 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: 11th or better; 13th and leads at least one lap; 15th and leads the most laps.

Matt Kenseth — 12th

Kenseth is currently 20 points ahead of 13th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, he will clinch if he finishes: second or better and leads a lap; third and leads the most laps.

Up Next: The Chase Begins At New Hampshire

Next week starts the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, with New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. again serving as the “launch site,” with the Sylvania 300 on Sunday, Sept. 20.

History suggests a strong performance in the first Chase race could be crucial. Kurt Busch started the first Chase, in 2004, with a New Hampshire victory and went on to take the championship. Clint Bowyer won in 2007 and his long-shot championship hopes immediately became legitimate; he went on to finish third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

There also are stories of disappointment, such as last year when Chase favorite Kyle Busch came in as the Chase top seed, but finished 34th. Busch never recovered in the championship battle, ultimately finishing 10th in points.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 12 2009
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