Mike Neff · Monday September 9, 2013
Key Moment – The caution flag flew with 55 laps to go, in the middle of green-flag pit stops to trap many of the leaders a lap down. Prior to that, Carl Edwards had been a non-factor, slowly working his way to around fifth place. But with the lucky break, he exited the pits in the top spot and that allowed him to go on and win the race.
In a Nutshell – Brad Keselowski did everything he could to put himself in contention to make the Chase, but came up short at the end. Kurt Busch looked like a strong contender for the win but had to settle for making the Chase. Jeff Gordon looked like he was going to pull off the last-minute Chase save again this year but came up two positions short. Ryan Newman had the playoffs in his grasp, but a spin by Clint Bowyer and a fumble by his pit crew left Newman out of the Chase by virtue of a tiebreaker to Martin Truex, Jr. Carl Edwards put himself in contention on the penultimate pit stop, then jumped the final restart to secure the win and take the meaningless points lead into the Chase.
Dramatic Moment – Ryan Newman raced his way to the lead as the laps were winding down to put himself in position to take one of the two “wild card” slots in the Chase. The battle between him and Edwards was compelling, nullified when Clint Bowyer spun with six laps to go. The resulting stops changed the outcome of the race; Newman’s crew didn’t hold the lead and it ultimately cost their driver a spot in the Chase.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Clint Bowyer spun by himself with a handful of laps to go. Conspiracy theorists are trying to spin it that Bowyer fell on his sword to give Truex an opportunity to grab a Chase spot. But the fact is, Bowyer couldn’t have expected Newman’s crew to blow the stop, or Truex to end up just enough spots behind Newman to secure the Chase via tiebreaker. If the Michael Waltrip Racing group took that chance, congratulations on having it work out, but it just seems too much of a crapshoot for Bowyer to have done it on purpose — questionable in-car audio aside.
In April of 2012, Tony Stewart was leading the race at Richmond when Carl Edwards fired early on a late-race restart. Stewart didn’t bite and Edwards was penalized for taking off too early. Fast forward to Saturday night. Paul Menard took two tires on the final pit stop of the night to put himself in the lead with three laps to go. He took off on the restart, Edwards passed him and was completely ahead of Menard by the time the leaders crossed the start/finish line. For whatever reason, NASCAR chose to swallow the whistle and allowed Edwards to drive off and take the win this time. Were they evening things out? A lot of people felt like the No. 99 was unfairly penalized last season.
What’s wrong with Jimmie Johnson? Johnson was so far ahead of the field after Pocono that people were already handing him the championship trophy. In the last four weeks, he’s finished 40th, 36th, 28th, and 40th. Johnson’s lead after Pocono was the biggest since the implementation of the new point system. He left Richmond second in the “old school” standings. With the reset, he now remains second, three behind Matt Kenseth. The No. 48 team has been known to turn on the switch when the Chase starts; they’ve overcome bad summers before. But they’re going to be tested this year, for sure because their momentum is completely non-existent right now.
The amount of hot air that was vented over the last week, and especially Saturday night, about all of the different possibilities and vagaries that could take place at Richmond among the 15 or so drivers who could potentially end up in the Chase would have filled every airship ever flown in the history of mankind. That makes it ironic when the checkered flag flew at the end of the Federated Auto Parts 400, there was exactly zero change in the Chase drivers from the end of the Advocare 500 in Atlanta. Was there some drama? Maybe. Did it really matter? No. At the end of the day, the drivers who are running well when the series heads into Richmond will usually be the drivers who are in contention at Homestead.
Predictions are running rampant and everyone has their own opinion about who is going to win the title. With Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards winning the last two races, they have to be under consideration. Clint Bowyer looked strong early and kept himself near the top of the point standings all season. Matt Kenseth has been strong on intermediate tracks, with three wins out of five races run on 1.5-milers this year. Kasey Kahne has the best average finish among all drivers on 1.5-mile tracks so he has to be considered a threat, too. Jimmie Johnson is always a favorite in the Chase, but the No. 48 team is going to have to do some serious tightening of the screws if they’re going to truly threaten for their sixth title. I think the wheels truly have come off (see above).
Three of the five caution flags the flew on Saturday night were for debris. Once again, we didn’t get to see any of the debris on TV. We only saw one safety truck even on the track to appear to pick anything up. Amazingly, after the third caution of the night, as the field headed off to Turn 1, Jamie McMurray hit a water bottle that was laying in the groove; um, wasn’t that supposed to be cleaned up? Debris cautions have become such a crutch for NASCAR to try and orchestrate the races that they should seriously be outlawed. Unless there is a tire carcass or a bumper cover laying in the primary groove, they need to keep the yellow flag in the back pocket and let the teams settle the races.
Ryan Newman reportedly already has a contract in hand for next season to drive for Richard Childress Racing. That is a good thing, for his sake because the way he threw his pit crew under the bus on Saturday night after coming into the pits with the lead but leaving in fifth position was downright disturbing. It is going to be difficult to put together a pit crew who will want to bust their butt every week for someone who so casually chucks them to the wolves.
There are always ironies that play out during Cup weekends. The incestuous nature of the sport results in former bedfellows finding themselves squared off on opposite sides of competition. In an interesting twist after the race on Saturday night, Dr. Jerry Punch, who was waiting to interview Kurt Busch when he had his famous meltdown that ultimately cost him his job at Penske ended up being the pit road reporter who interviewed Busch about making it to the Chase. It was a very sweet irony, indeed.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Denny Hamlin considers Richmond his home track. Saturday night, it looked like his home had been foreclosed. Hamlin started sixth and stayed in the top 10 early. Unfortunately, he slipped back to the 20s before halfway and spent the rest of the day battling for spots around there before coming home 21st. 2013 has been a throwaway season for Hamlin. Hopefully, his squad will figure out some things that will make 2014 more successful.
Clint Bowyer looked like the car to beat for most of the night. He started in fourth and led 72 laps before he got caught out by a caution on lap 345. Bowyer was buried back in the pack after that, ending the night in 25th position and was accused of spinning on purpose to bring out the last caution of the night.
Defending champ Brad Keselowski, like Bowyer, looked pretty strong early, led the most laps in the race, but also found himself caught out by the debris caution on lap 345. His chances were gone, after that as the loss of track position left him struggling to simply finish 17th. Ironically it was Jimmie Johnson, the five-time series champion who blew a tire that spread the debris on the track, a wreck that ultimately prevented Keselowski from having the opportunity to defend his title.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Many people might think Joey Logano should be in the foul fortune column with his horrible race on Saturday. Logano was fortunate because the late caution allowed him to take a wave around to get to one lap down and on the same lap as several other drivers. One of those drivers was Brian Vickers, who was doing his best to make sure that his teammate Martin Truex, Jr. made the Chase. With Vickers running one of the slowest laps in the history of Richmond, Logano was able to pass him and David Gilliland, putting himself one point ahead of Jeff Gordon and into the Chase.
Carl Edwards was a non-factor for most of the race but was lucky enough to have not pitted when the caution flew for Johnson’s blown tire. His team ripped off a great pit stop and put him out front to contend for the race win. He then jumped the final restart, but was fortunate enough to have NASCAR not penalize him so that he could go on to win the race.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was having a solid run already on Saturday night. But he capitalized on the timing of the Johnson flat and put himself in contention for a top 10. By the time the dust had settled, at the checkered flag Stenhouse quietly found himself with the first top 10 of his Cup Series career. Stenhouse has been knocking on the door of a top 10 all season, and he managed to ride the momentum of his first pole last week to his first top 10 overall this week.
- Carl Edwards win at Richmond was the 21st of his Cup career. It took him 327 series starts to reach that total.
- The win is Edwards second victory of the season. It is also his eighth top 5 finish of the year.
- This is the first Cup series win for Edwards at Richmond. It is his fourth top 5 in 19 starts at the ¾-mile track.
- Were it not for the artificial restating of the points, Edwards would have the point lead by one over Johnson after the win at Richmond.
- Kurt Busch’s second place finish was his third top-2 finish at Richmond in 26 career starts.
- The runner-up finish for Busch is his first top-2 finish of the season and his eighth top 5 of the year. Busch closed with four top-5 results in the final six regular season races to make the Chase.
- Ryan Newman’s third-place finish was his second top 3 of the season. He’s ended up in the top 5 six times this year.
- Newman’s podium finish at Richmond was his fifth top-3 finish at the ¾-mile track. Newman has six top 5 finishes all-time at Richmond.
- Jeff Gordon won the pole at Richmond for his first pole of the season. That marked the 21st straight year for Gordon winning a pole in Cup competition. That broke the record of 20 years that he shared with David Pearson.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the Rookie of the Race again this weekend.
- AJ Allmendinger scored a 15th-place finish in the No. 47 on Saturday.
- Greg Biffle was hardly mentioned during the race on Saturday but he secured a Chase position again, for the fifth time in six years.
- Top 10 finishes by Manufacturer…
Ford – 2
Chevrolet – 6
Toyota – 2
What’s the Points?
For those of you who like “old school” points, Carl Edwards overtook Jimmie Johnson for the lead Saturday night. Edwards left Richmond one point ahead of Johnson in the now meaningless regular season standings.
As the series heads to the final 10 races, we get the artificially inflated point totals that apparently are supposed to make the battle for the title somehow more important. Matt Kenseth is now the point leader thanks to his five wins during the first 26 races of the year. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are tied for second, as each of them has four wins on the season. Kenseth has 2,015 points while Johnson and Busch are sitting on 2,012. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards both have two victories in the “regular season” so they are sitting with 2,006 points, nine out of the top spot. Joey Logano and Greg Biffle each have one win during the year so they’re holding 2,003 points, 12 behind Kenseth but three ahead of the Wild Cards and non-winners.
Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch all enter the Chase with 2,000 points after not scoring a win in the first 26 races but having the necessary points to end up inside the top 10. Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. are the two “wild card” entrants. They will have 2,000 points each because Wild Card entrants do not receive bonus points for their wins.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Richmond International Raceway routinely provides the best races on the schedule. The side-by-side competition and the importance of tires keep the fans on the edge of their seats all night. 17 lead changes, a total that included seven of them on-track is the kind of action that fans want to see. The race gets five ice-cold Michelob Amber Bocks. The only thing keeping it from receiving the full six was the lame no-call by NASCAR that allowed Carl Edwards to steal the victory. There is no doubt that the official review by NASCAR will find nothing wrong, but Edwards should have been penalized because that is the precedent that NASCAR has set.
Next Up — The first race of the Chase is next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. The folks in Daytona are hoping that the fans will show up in droves. If they don’t, you just might witness the beginning of the end for the intermediate track in Joliet, IL. The race will be aired on ESPN at 2:00 PM ET; it will also be broadcast live on your local MRN affiliate.
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