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Well, there is only one thing that will actually matter when the race is done at Richmond International Raceway and that’s who’s in and who’s outside looking in when the checkered flag drops. When this one is done, sixteen drivers will be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship and the rest, well, let’s just say they’ll be thinking about getting a win or two and working on better performance for next year.
This has been an interesting year so far and, as is often the case, those teams that start the year with dominating performances generally struggle a little before and during the Chase. If you don’t believe me, just look at the way the Hendrick and Hendrick associated teams started the year and where they are now. It hasn’t been what could even be remotely considered as a stellar year for any or all of them. In fact, in the last ten weeks alone things have looked fairly bleak for them. They just haven’t been performing at all well and this fan knows they are feeling the heat and the pressure to step it up and the sooner the better for all of them. Knowing that Hendrick teams have often led the way over the last years, it has to be hard for them to accept so many marginal performances as they have in recent times.
The bright spot recently for Hendrick hasn’t even been in house but by Stewart-Haas Racing and the number four team of Kevin Harvick. They have led laps and shown strength over the last weeks but, even at that, they haven’t looked that good, comparatively speaking.
Just the opposite has been true for the Joe Gibbs Racing teams. Just a couple of months ago many were wondering if they were ever going to show up competitively this year. Looking at their performance and results over just the last eight weeks or so tells a whole different story. They are qualifying up front often and finishing either at or near the front and one can only think they will continue to do the same over the next few weeks at least.
Well, that is unless their performance takes a turn for the worse, (which is always a possibility in NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, although this fan doesn’t expect it.)
From this fan’s view, The Penske teams have been running well but haven’t been stellar in their performance over the last couple of months of competition. Yes, I know they’ve won some races and made a strong showing over that time but they just haven’t looked all that overpowering or even as though they could be. I do admit that could be because they are doing all of their testing before the Chase begins so they won’t be surprised when it does but, I don’t think so. I think the rules changes have thrown them a few curve balls just like it has other teams.
When it comes down to the race at RIR Saturday night, there are a lot of question marks going in. Some of those will go away when the green flag drops but several of them will be around until the checkered flag drops. That’s because positions thirteen through sixteen in particular are still up in the air. Well, not thirteen so much because Ryan Newman only has to finish thirty-first or better. Unless a major disaster strikes them though, Ryan will once again be in the Chase on points.
The situation gets really interesting for positions fourteen through sixteen and I don’t know of anyone that hasn’t been thinking how precarious those positions are going into the night race at Richmond.
Clint Bowyer is probably the most at risk simply because he sits in sixteenth points-wise and his situation could go either way very quickly. If he runs into the problems he’s had over the last several weeks, he could drop right out of being in contention for being in the Chase at all. The only thing that really locks him in would be to win or for things to remain pretty much as they are when the night is done. If someone unexpected wins from seventeenth to thirtieth, he’s gone.
Paul Menard isn’t in a much better place since he has to finish ninth or better to lock himself in. Even if someone unexpected wins and he finishes ninth or better he should be in.
Once again, the biggest question mark in Saturday night’s race and making the Chase is Jeff Gordon. He has to finish seventeenth or better and he could squeak in and I use that term because he should have already locked himself in. As I stated last week, he basically had two race wins locked up earlier in the season and didn’t win and those slip ups put him in the position he’s in going into Saturday night’s race. From this fan’s view, this has been a year that, if it can go wrong, it has for the twenty-four team. I’m sure all Jeff Gordon fans will be paying very close attention to where he’s running until the checkered flag drops.
I find it extremely humorous how all of the “Black Helicopters” come out, in particular for this race at RIR leading into the Chase. I have been following a lot of the comments about how people think the race is going to go and it is almost unbelievable what some actually think. I’ve heard just about every possible scenario anyone can imagine and I have to say, I just don’t agree with any of them. Having been a racer and a NASCAR fan for around fifty years or so, I don’t understand why so many think the fixes are in and there will be team orders to let the ones that need to finish up front finish there even if it means sacrificing a better finish by some team members to do so.
I do admit that NASCAR does keep a tight rein on competition and I do think they make some rule decisions to tighten up the competition but, I do not think they choose winners and losers and I don’t think it would ever be in their best interest or the sport’s best interest to do so. What I do know of racing and racing luck and how everything seems to come together at times, it can look very strange and even suspicious at times. I also know from experience that things can happen at the strangest of times in racing and it can either improve a situation or have an absolute negative impact on it.
In this fan’s opinion, NASCAR is probably one of the most competitive sports around and there are a number of very smart people involved in it that range from floor sweepers looking to break into it to the owner’s that love to win and don’t mind if it turns out to be in dominating fashion. If I thought for one moment that NASCAR would try to alter the outcome of a race just so someone like a Jeff Gordon or anyone else could be in the Chase in his final year of competition, I can honestly say I would never watch another race. As it is, I look forward to this race and the drama that surrounds it and I can’t wait to hear all of the “Black Helicopter” stories and statements when it’s over. As for who will be in the Chase when the race at Richmond ends Saturday night, I’m just going to wait and see which ones step up and outperform the other forty-two…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 11, 2015 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions