Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

After 500 miles around the historic Darlington Raceway last Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond for the final regular season race that will set the 16 driver field for the Chase with Saturday night’s running of the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Often described as the perfectly designed race track by drivers, the 0.75 mile track lends itself to not only short track characteristics of beating and banging, but also the characteristics of a larger track with the side by side racing that will take place throughout the event.

As of now, there are 13 drivers with wins that are inside the top-30 in points, leaving three Chase berths up for grabs on Saturday night. So how do the points stack up for those not completely locked in heading to Richmond?

Chris Buescher sits 30th in points with an 11 point gap on David Ragan in 31st, so as long as Buescher does not finish more than 11 positions behind Ragan, his Pocono win will guarantee him a place in the Chase.

As far as the others without a win, Chase Elliott (+39 on 17th), Austin Dillon (+32 on 17th), and Jamie McMurray (+22 on 17th), are all on the catbird seat at the moment as they have a significant gap over the others on the outside looking in. Ryan Newman looked to have a fighting chance at being able to point his way into the Chase without a win after Darlington as he was just seven points behind McMurray, but on Wednesday, his team was hit with a 15 point penalty, increasing his points deficit to 22 points and making his task on Saturday night all the more difficult.

The remaining 12 drivers that are still mathematically alive in the standings (Kasey Kahne, Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, and Landon Cassill) would all have to win at Richmond to move into the Chase, while David Ragan and Regan Smith would need a win and some help to move into the top-30 in points to secure a Chase berth.

From the Driver’s Seat

“The second Richmond race each year is especially intense just because you know that there’s a lot on the line. There are a lot of people racing for different things. It’s the end of our regular season. If you’re not in the Chase, it’s your last chance to win a race. There are some guys who will probably be fighting for points spots as you go in there, but Richmond is kind of your perfect short track. It has good speed, a short-track feel to it, and the tires wear out. That’s kind of what we all grew up racing on. It’s got a little bit of everything and that makes it a fun place to race,” said Kevin Harvick.

Last September at Richmond

To say that Matt Kenseth was dominant in last September’s Richmond night race would be an understatement. Joey Logano led from the pole, but after taking the lead for the first time at lap 15, Kenseth was unstoppable for the majority of the race, leading a total of 352 laps on the night and leaving the field in the dust en route to his fourth win of the season.

The win gave Kenseth a three way tie for the top seed in the Chase, along with Jimmie Johnson and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

“These guys gave me a great car – thanks to Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and all these guys standing behind me. They had the pit stops we needed, they kept us out front so we were really superb in the long run and we had to work for it pretty hard in the short run. I was disappointed to see that last caution, but I knew it was going to be tough. We were able to get the jump and get out front. Thanks a lot to Dollar General, Sprint, Dewalt, Toyota, TRD – we have great partners and we couldn’t do it without them. Good way to go into the Chase,” said Kenseth.

Who to Watch

  • Kyle Busch – After finishing as the runner-up in the last two Richmond races, Busch will be looking to add another win to his 2016 resume to give himself a few more bonus points for the Chase. Busch has four career Richmond wins (2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012), as well as 15 top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1018 laps led, and an average finish of 6.9 in 22 starts.
  • Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has had much success at his home track throughout his career and will be looking for yet another win on the 0.75 mile track this weekend. In 20 starts, Hamlin has two wins (2009 and 2010), seven top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1405 laps led, and an average finish of 10.6.
  • Kevin Harvick – Harvick saw his chances for another Southern 500 win disappear on pit road last weekend, so naturally Harvick and his team will want some redemption this weekend at Richmond in the last race before the Chase. Harvick has three wins (2006, 2011, and 2013), 10 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1050 laps led, and an average finish of 10.6 in 31 starts.
  • Ryan Newman – Newman heads to Richmond behind the eight-ball, needing to either win or out-point the other Chase contenders to be able to make it into the 16 driver playoff field when the checkered flag flies on Saturday night. In 29 starts, Newman has one win (2003), six top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, one pole, 454 laps led, and an average finish of 11.7. However, Newman has not finished inside the top-10 at Richmond since the fall race in 2014.
  • Tony Stewart – Making his final start at the track where he got his first win, Stewart is gearing up to make a run through the playoffs one final time and a good finish at Richmond could go a long way in helping him along in that effort. Stewart has three wins (1999, 2001, and 2002), 11 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, 950 laps led, and an average finish of 12.9 in 34 starts.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, September 9

  • NSCS Practice (10:00 am to 10:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • NSCS Final Practice (Noon to 1:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • NSCS Qualifying (5:45 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, September 10

  • NSCS Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 pm – 400 laps, 300 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.

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