Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 26: Anybody for an Old Fashioned Shootout

Sprint Cup gunslingers come to Richmond, Virginia.
Richmond: It All Comes Down to This

When the checker flag drops on Saturday night at the conclusion of the Chevy Rock n Roll 400, twelve drivers will compete for the Sprint Cup trophy. The remainder will be pondering the what-if’s having ten races to still win races and work on things to improve next year. Many will be fighting for jobs, a tougher challenge this year than perhaps any time before.

Thinking back to February and how many fans would have foreseen the 2009 season, surely no one would be surprised that Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are near the top of the standings. Likewise, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth in the top 12 would seem like safe bets. In fact, many would see Matt Kenseth in superb fighting shape after winning the first two races. Many probably figured Tony Stewart would be in there too. Somehow, he’d overcome the challenges of running his own team and scrap to get in there, but would anyone see him having a dominant lead in the points?

How about the surprises? Wasn’t Dale Earnhardt Jr. a sure bet to improve on last year getting settled in with the Hendricks operation? Surely Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and probably Clint Bowyer would represent Richard Childress racing, but not a single RCR car remains in the hunt. Could a NASCAR fan envision Carl Edwards winless? Maybe some would scratch their heads and wonder how Kyle Busch could win four races and be fighting to make it into the top 12.

There are pleasant surprises too. Kasey Kahne looks like a chaser representing the Richard Petty – Gillette Evernham union. Juan Montoya is there when the future of DEI and Ganassi looked desperate as they merged to try to hang on. Mark Martin sure proved his fans hopes worthy tied for the lead in wins and in the top 12.

There’s much to be settled as drivers try to preserve their spot if they find themselves in position 12 or better. Three drivers below them have a shot to get in. The drivers in with their lead are: #5 Carl Edwards, 85 pts.; #6 Kasey Kahne, 76 pts.; #7 Kurt Busch, 75 pts.; #8 Juan Montoya, 68 pts.; #9 Ryan Newman, 61 pts.; #10 Mark Martin, 49 pts.; #11 Greg Biffle, 48 pts.; #12 Matt Kenseth, 0 pts. dividing line. The drivers attempting to make the field who can do so are: #13 Brian Vickers -20 pts.; #14 Kyle Busch, -37 pts.; and as a long shot, #15, David Reutimann.

What’s it all mean? Almost certainly, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are sweating bullets, a mediocre finish where Brian Vickers or Kyle Busch hit the top ten convincingly, they’re toast. For example, if Brian Vickers finished 5th and Matt Kenseth Finished 14th, it would be wait until next year for Kenseth. If Kyle Busch finished 10th and Greg Biffle finished 37th, Biffle would be out of action. Do the math. Oh, Mark Martin’s just a point ahead of Biffle, no time for whistling past the graveyard.

Given this has been a tough year for the Roush boys with only Matt Kenseth’s two wins to start the season in the trophy case, their guys must run for the top ten to feel secure of being successful. Mark Martin has his four wins, but when things have gone wrong, they’ve gone very wrong. Brian Vickers has been one of the hottest drivers in the sport over the past several weeks. No matter how bad things go for Kyle Busch, he can sneak up out of the bushes and score a dramatic win any time he starts his car. Richmond’s race will be an old fashioned shoot-out while these contenders have all to lose with bad race Saturday night. Meanwhile, the drivers in 6th through 9th might do well to race conservatively go for a respectable finish well within the top 20 but not do anything stupid that could cause a DNF. How bad things work out for drivers should they fail could be moderated a little by possible “start and park” drivers who would conceivably occupy the bottom. Right now 45 cars are entered so two will go home, but in the starting field. Here’s the clutter, #36 Patrick Carpentier, #37 Tony Raines, #66 Dave Blaney, #71 Mike Bliss, #78 Regan Smith, and #87 Joe Nemechek. Chase contenders can look at their presence as a protective cushion as long as they don’t meet their doom within the first few laps of the race. Is this fair? Well the Detroit Lions will play on Sunday and the Pittsburgh Pirates have games scheduled this weekend, don’t they?

Richmond is one of the circuit’s most exciting and unique racetracks with its ¾ mile length, long back straight away and bump and grind short track racing for the rest of the track, any thing can happen and sparks fly. This will be one to watch for sure, but there will be some seriously broken hearts before the bewitching hour Saturday night.

Start ‘em up!

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