Originally posted on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 9/6/12

 

With one race left in NASCAR's regular season, there is but a single Chase berth still up for grabs. Kyle Busch currently has a tenuous hold on that position as the highest-ranked of the one-win drivers outside of the top 10. The No. 18 is currently 12 points ahead of Jeff Gordon, the nearest challenger for that final coveted spot.
But it remains to be seen who will walk away from Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night with the NASCAR's final playoff berth. Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch? Carl Edwards or Ryan Newman? Joey Logano or Marcos Ambrose?
Any of those six drivers could make the Chase by winning one of the final two races of NASCAR's regular season. Kyle Busch is clearly the favorite at this point, but he's just one wreck, ill-timed caution or bad pit stop from missing out on the Chase. And of course, if any of the other one-win drivers manage to pull of a W at Richmond, that driver will automatically take the wild card spot away from Busch, regardless of the points situation.
The battle for the second wild card slot has been in a great deal of flux over the past month. A few weeks ago, I though Jeff Gordon had the best shot at the spot. Then Ryan Newman took over the top spot on the strength of a couple of solid finishes. But after the No. 39's bad luck over the last couple of weeks, he's fallen way back and his only hope is to win at Richmond.
At this point, it's clear that Kyle Busch has a definite edge over Gordon. Sure, Gordon is solid at Richmond, but in all likelihood, if he (or Newman, Logano, Ambrose, etc.) is going to earn that second wild card, he'll have to take the same route Tony Stewart did in winning the championship at Homestead last November: by going out and beating the man who is currently best at the track in question.
And make no mistake, Kyle Busch has been numero uno at Richmond lately. He is the most recent winner at the track (April of this year). The younger Busch brother boasts four Richmond wins and a minuscule average finish of 4.7. He ranks second in numerous statistical categories at the track, including average running position (7.3), driver rating (116.1), fastest laps run (503), average green flag speed and laps in the top 15. Suffice it to say, the competitors of the No. 18 have their work cut out for them this weekend if they hope to make the Chase.
But dominant as Busch has been, he's still far from a lock to make the Chase. He may be the definite favorite for the final wild card spot, but there are too many variables at play for him to start celebrating just yet. The race is shaping up to be a free-for-all on the 0.75-mile Virginia short track as pretty much everyone on the track is racing for wins and doesn't give a hoot about the points, with the lone exception of Busch. He is truly the only one with anything to lose with a bad finish, because wins are all that matter for his fellow wild card contenders as well as those already locked into the top 10 who are racing for bonus points.
Will Kyle Busch make the Chase? Probably. Is he a lock to go dancing in NASCAR's postseason? Not hardly.

 

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