Originally written on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 9/12/12

Richmond was one of the most drama-filled events of the 2012 season. And I'm not talking about the rain that threatened to postpone the event until Sunday (although that possibility was important to me personally, since I was covering the race but would've been forced to watch the race from home if it had been run on Sunday).
The story lines were intense as several drivers were fighting over the final wild card berth. At different points, the emotions swung wildly as it appeared that Kyle Busch, then Ryan Newman, and finally Jeff Gordon had that spot in their back pocket. Things weren't settled until the checkered flag flew, when everyone finally could catch their collective breath and begin preparations for the Chase--or not, in the case of Busch and four or five other drivers who had harbored varying degrees of hope of making the Chase but now found themselves on the outside looking in. Up: Jeff Gordon I'll start with the obvious winner from Saturday night. Even before the race, Gordon was a long shot to make the Chase. He needed to either win or make up 12 points on Kyle Busch. Given Busch's career average finish of 4.7 at Richmond, winning seemed like the best option. But Gordon hadn't won at RIR in a decade, so that seemed unlikely as well. Things looked even more dire as the handling on Gordon's No. 24 car was terrible and he lost a lot midway through the event. However, crew chief Alan Gustafson played the rain/cautions strategy right, while the No. 18 didn't, and after some much-needed adjustments, Gordon roared through the field to finish second, ending the night a mere three points ahead of Busch and steal the final spot in the 2012 Chase. Amazing.
Down: Kyle Busch In fairness, this spot really should belong to crew chief Dave Rogers, who acknowledged that he blew what in hindsight should have been a simple call. The No. 18 was racing the No. 24 and the No. 24 only, and there was nothing whatsoever to lose by pitting when Gordon pitted. Now Busch, one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR today, is missing the Chase for the second time in the last four years, and we are left to wonder if the mercurial driver will ever put things together enough to win a Cup title. Up: Race to the Chase drama Most of the Chase attention was focused on that final wild card spot, as discussed above. But to be sure, there was plenty of other Chase drama going on, both in terms of points seeding and momentum heading to Chicagoland this coming weekend. The race winner (more on him later) substantially improved his stock heading into the playoff. Tony Stewart needed a decent finish to stay in the top 10 and protect his bonus points (he still would have made the Chase as a wild card, but would have lost his nine bonus points). Jimmie Johnson was fighting to share the top seed with Denny Hamlin. It was almost too much to keep track of as events unfolded on the track. If only every race could be this exciting! (Note to NASCAR: Please don't try to make every race this exciting. I can't even imagine what diabolical schemes might be tried to up the ante from week to week. For example, do not introduce eliminations at the Chase races. And don't try inverting the fields, or other such ridiculous ideas to make things artificially interesting.) Down: The other wild card contenders Kyle Busch wasn't the only wild card hopeful disappointed after the Richmond event. Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards and even Paul Menard had at least some hope of making the Chase, but it was not to be. Once the race was underway, Newman was the only one who appeared to have any real hope of making the Chase. He took the lead with a little over 100 laps to go, and if he could have held on he would have taken the spot on the strength of two victories. But eventual winner Clint Bowyer soon took away the top spot and Newman faded into the middle of the pack. The other hopefuls ran uniformly terribly all night and never had any real chance at winning. Up: Clint Bowyer You didn't think I'd forgotten about the race winner, did you? Bowyer made a statement on Saturday night that he's not to be forgotten in conversations about the prime title contenders. He did what Denny Hamlin failed to do--save fuel like Scrooge in the middle of winter--and picked up his second win of the season and an extra three bonus points heading into the Chase. Down: Chad Knaus I hate to knock the No. 48 team after they put together a decent run at Richmond, but finishing outside the top 10 after a lousy pit call (or lack thereof) killed the hopes of a win for Jimmie Johnson--the same pit call, in fact, that blew Kyle Busch's hopes of making the Chase. The good news heading into the Chase is that Johnson has had solid cars lately, but picking up another win and the accompanying bonus points sure would have been nice.
Up: Denny Hamlin Hamlin appeared to be well on his way toward winning a third consecutive race after leading 202 laps Saturday night, but pit strategy and a lack of fuel economy eventually got the best of him. It was a bizarre ending to a race that Hamlin had dominated to that point, but at least Hamlin and his guys can know that 1.) They are the top seed heading into the Chase, 2.) They're running better than any other team at the moment, and 3.) They have the defending championship-winning crew chief on the pit box. Confidence should be surging in the No. 11 camp right now.
Down: Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.
These three were the biggest losers when the points were reset for the Chase according to regular season win totals. They each lost five spots in the standings, as Kenseth and Junior had one win apiece while Truex has been winless to this point. Their current deficit in the points is not insurmountable, but it must be at least a little bit discouraging to fall into the bottom half of the Chase standings just like that. 
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