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*********************************************************************************************First, there was Atlanta. Now there is Richmond and there are basically only three spots left to claim to make the Chase. Oh, I know when you look at the standings it may look like there are four, but, there is one that is definitely in, it is just a matter of whether he stays in one of the wildcard spots or moves into the top ten and is able to take full advantage of his three wins on the season. Of course, I know you all know that “one” I’m talking about is, Brad Keselowski.
What happens tonight at RIR will determine who will be in the Chase for 2011 and I don’t remember there ever being such mystery and drama coming into the last race before we know which teams will actually be involved. Oh sure, we all know eight (actually nine) are locked in but there are a lot of possibilities depending on where Tony Stewart and Dale Jr finish in tonight’s competition. If the two of them finish twentieth or better only one spot remains to be filled. If disaster strikes either one or both of them, it opens up a whole new set of options and the whole thing won’t be determined until the checkered flag drops at the end of the race tonight.
Personally, I don’t think NASCAR ever dreamed this would be the case, even though I know it was what they hoped for when they made the changes to the points system this year.
Now, before I move on to tonight’s race completely, I have to mention a few things about the Atlanta race. I don’t have to tell you who won because Jeff Gordon winning his eighty-fifth career race has been talked about all week since the checkered flag dropped Tuesday afternoon. I don’t even have to mention who finished second because there has been no end to references to the number of wins and championships represented by the ones that finished first and second, also known as, “Four-time” and “Five time”, (but just in case you’ve been completely out of touch, that would be Jimmie Johnson.)
One thing I do find interesting is that another multi time Cup Champion finished third, but was hardly ever mentioned in the comparisons of number of wins and championships and that would be Tony Stewart. Considering how many spots he moved forward at the end of the race, I would have thought he would have at least be included in the conversations as an honorable mention for his two championships and thirty-nine wins. (Hm-m-m, maybe it was just because he wasn’t mixing it up at the end with the other two…) One thing is certain in looking back to Atlanta last week though. Things did change as far as the Chase was concerned.
Tonight at Richmond will be a night of hard racing, bumping and banging and quite possibly hot tempers. One can only hope that someone with no chance of making the Chase doesn’t ruin someone else’s chance of making it by either doing something really stupid or by reacting to a situation ruled by temperament. However, this is a very fast short rack and emotions will play a great role simply because of all the adrenaline the drivers will be pumping through their systems.
There is a lot riding on tonight for some drivers and teams and for others, well… let’s just say some have nothing to lose. That makes for an interesting mix and could mean we could see an unexpected winner tonight. Some are obvious choices for possible winners and others, well… let’s just say… from this fan’s view, they don’t have snowball’s chance in the Arizona desert of winning. Of those unexpected ones, I would have to say AJ Allmendinger has an outside chance along with his teammate Marcos Ambrose. Both have been performing better but their consistency just isn’t there yet. (Honestly, from my view, if either one of them wins I would be quite surprised.)
Others I consider as having outside chances of winning would be names like David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr, Regan Smith, David Reutimann and even Casey Mears. David Ragan needs to win if he has any chance at all of making the Chase, but in my opinion, both possibilities are very long shots for him for tonight’s race. David Reutimann is more likely to win if for no other reason than he is a great short track racer. I have to say in complete honesty though, the reason I say any of these have outside chances of winning is because I really don’t expect it and I really don’t think it is going to happen.
When it comes right down to it, I think the winner tonight will come from the top fifteen in points and more likely the top ten. There are some obvious choices amongst them also, but there are some that just might have a better chance than the others. One thing I won’t do is make my choice based on the qualifying times for tonight’s race. Although qualifying was interesting, the most important thing to consider is consistent lap times (as long as they’re faster lap times than the rest) and what happens during pit stops.
There are those that think Denny Hamlin or Kyle Bush will win tonight. I see their point considering how they’ve done over the last several trips to RIR, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen for them tonight. Personally, I ‘m looking for a Ford or Chevy to be in Victory Lane tonight.
Jimmie Johnson looked particularly strong in practice and qualifying and could take the trophy tonight. Even though he didn’t qualify all that well, Jeff Gordon once again had the fastest car in the practice sessions and was also best over multiple laps. Carl Edwards and the #99 team seemed to hit on something late in the second practice session and I do think he has a great shot tonight, too.
At Richmond, a lot can wrong in a hurry so it makes it hard to confidently pick a possible winner for tonight’s race, but considering his performance lately, I’m still still picking Jeff Gordon to win his eighty-sixth. If he doesn’t, neither he nor I will be that disappointed but it sure would make for interesting conversation in the week ahead, wouldn’t it. Does anyone think it will be a repeat of the performance at the end of the Atlanta race? Well… I reckon we’ll see…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 10, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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