There are 19 drivers with a shot at securing the final two spots in NASCAR’s 16-driver Chase for the Cup title playoff going into the race Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia.
Four of those 19 Sprint Cup Series drivers could make the 10-race Chase on points if they don’t win the Richmond race: Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and rookie Kyle Larson.
The other 15 would have to win at Richmond to get in. That group includes three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who returned to the series last week after missing three races.
Stewart was involved in a fatal incident Aug. 9 when his car struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. while Ward was on foot during a non-NASCAR sprint-car race in upstate New York.
This year NASCAR revised the Chase format, expanding the field to 16 drivers from 12 and putting a greater emphasis on winning races during the 26-race regular season that ends with the Richmond race.
A win virtually assures a driver a Chase berth. If there are fewer than 16 different winners, the other drivers highest in points join the Chase field.
Of the 14 drivers already locked in this year, all but Matt Kenseth have won a race this season. Kenseth, now third in the Cup standings, clinched his spot based on points last weekend after the race in Atlanta.
The other winless drivers who could still make the Chase either with a win or on points are Newman, Biffle, Bowyer and Larson. Newman and Biffle have the best shot in that group because they’re highest in the Cup point standings (ninth and 10th, respectively) heading into Richmond.
The 15 drivers who would have to win the Richmond race to make the Chase are Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr., Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, David Gilliland, David Ragan and Cole Whitt.
Besides Kenseth, the drivers who have won this year and thus are locked into the Chase are Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger.
Richmond International is a three-quarter mile oval and, among current drivers, Kyle Busch has the most career wins there with four. Earnhardt, Harvick, Johnson and Stewart are all three-time Richmond winners, while Gordon, Hamlin and Bowyer have won there twice.
Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing team will get extra attention this weekend because they were involved in a major cheating scandal at the Richmond race a year ago. NASCAR ruled the team used late pit stops and other actions in hopes of manipulating the race’s outcome to ensure Truex, then their teammate, made the Chase.
Bowyer, Truex and Vickers were penalized 50 championship points, which dropped Truex out of the Chase and lifted Newman into the playoff. NASCAR also placed Gordon in the Chase — after ruling MWR’s actions had put Gordon at an “unfair disadvantage” — and fined MWR a record $300,000.
This year’s Chase starts Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
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