It seemed very appropriate that the final race before the Chase is at Richmond. The nickname for this track is “Racing Perfection” because it combines all that fans love about racing in one facility. It’s a short track, but has sweeping corners, and is incredibly fast. It’s a track that both fans and drivers enjoy racing at.
Last night’s race at the track seemed very fitting because it was the perfect weekend to complete the regular season to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It was also very appropriate with it being the weekend of September 11, and NASCAR did everything possible to honor the memory of those lost on that fateful day 10 years ago. A silent crowd and broadcast team from laps 9-11, color guard all around the track, and many drivers carrying red, white and blue colors for the race.
The fans then got a treat in seeing a classic short-track race that saw tempers get aggravated early, and often. Rivalries were renewed on the track and on the radio, and cars were torn up as if they went through a buzz saw.
At the end of the night, it was Kevin Harvick taking the checkered flag. But, with all the focus on his win, it quickly turned to 12 drivers that had earned the right to go for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship.
In this year’s field, there are five former champions, six Chase veterans, and one Chase rookie that has been on fire all summer long.
The part about this year’s Chase field is that truthfully, there are no favorites. There’s 12 drivers that have had excellent seasons through the first 26 races, and have earned their spot to contend for the title. It’s a championship that is more up in the air than in many year’s past.
Considering how the last five championships have been won by the same driver, it is extremely gratifying to know that there is no clear favorite to win the championship heading in. That means that every driver is on equal ground, with the exception of them being seeded based on wins.
Already there is a tie at the top between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, two drivers that have experienced their share of run-ins this season, most notably of course at Darlington in May.
Following those two is Jeff Gordon, experiencing a great resurgence in his career with three wins, the most he’s experienced in one year since 2007. He’s followed by Matt Kenseth, the last driver to win a championship before the Chase was introduced. After him, it’s four drivers with one win on the year, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. The final two spots in the top-10 are Tony Stewart, the last driver to win a Chase title not named Johnson, and finally Dale Earnhardt Jr, who has experienced a very successful season with his new crew chief, Steve Letarte.
The final two spots were the wild card entries, as they missed out on the top-10, but earned their way in because of their wins.
In 11th is Brad Keselowski, possibly the hottest driver entering the Chase because of the success he had over the summer. He did not finish outside the top-10 since Indianapolis, and earned two more wins to go along with his fuel-mileage gamble victory in Kansas.
The final Chase contender was the one that last year had the opportunity to take the championship away from Johnson. Denny Hamlin was the guy last year to possibly end the stranglehold Johnson had on the title, but had it slip away from his grasp in the final race of the season.
He enters in last because of his one win at Michigan earlier in the year, but is hopeful that he can make one opportunity and make up for his mistake last year.
Well, there you have it. The 12 drivers for the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup are set, and beginning next weekend, the quest for the championship kicks into over drive.
RESULTS: 1-Harvick 2-Edwards 3-Gordon 4-Ragan 5-Kurt Busch 6-Kyle Busch 7-Stewart 8-Newman 9-Hamlin 10-Martin
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Keselowski 16-Earnhardt Jr. 23-Kenseth 31-Johnson
CAUTIONS: 15 for 85 laps. Lap 4-6 (#32, 71 accident-T3), 9-19 (#00, 33, 88, 46, 11, 34, 13, 56, 17, 9, 38, 55, 7 accident-T4), 28-32 (#4 accident-T2), 38-43 (#9, 88 accident-BS), 53-61 (#4, 9, 83 accident-T4), 118-122 (#32 accident-T2), 154-160 (#38, 88 accident-T2), 164-168 (#51 spin-FS), 173-178 (#27 accident-T2), 187-190 (#22, 42, 48 accident-T2), 247-253 (#22, 48 accident-T2), 286-290 (#31 accident-T3), 298-301 (#9, 35 accident-T2), 310-313 (#00, 33 accident-T1), 385-388 (#27 spin-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 11 among 7 drivers. Reutimann POLE, McMurray 1-19, Johnson 20-57, Harvick 58, Kenseth 59-73, Harvick 74-156, Biffle 157-162, Harvick 163-201, Edwards 202-314, Harvick 315-377, Gordon 378-384, Harvick 385-400.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 20 mins, 12 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 89.910 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.139 Seconds
2011 CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Kyle Busch, 2012 points; 2. Harvick, 2012 points; 3. Gordon, -3; 4. Kenseth, -6; 5. Edwards, -9; 6. Johnson, -9; 7. Kurt Busch, -9; 8. Newman, -9; 9. Stewart, -12; 10. Earnhardt Jr, -12; 11. Keselowski, -12; 12. Hamlin, -12