Federated Auto Parts 400: Top Contenders for Checkered Flag in Richmond

Ryan DavenportContributor ISeptember 8, 2012

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 2, 2012 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Tom Whitmore/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tom Whitmore/Getty Images

This weekend, it's do or die for a number of big-name drivers.

On Saturday night, the Sprint Cup Series regular season will come to a close with the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond, Virginia, and the stakes couldn't be higher for those outside of top 10 in the standings.

For drivers like Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch, who currently sit in 11th and 12th place, respectively, today's race represents an opportunity to punch their Wild Card tickets in the Sprint Cup standings.

Others, like Jeff Gordon who is currently in 13th place in the standings, view this race as their last chance at a Wild Card berth, because without a win tonight, they'll be out of contention completely.

With so much on the line, the Federated Auto Parts 400 will be a dramatic regular season finale in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Here's a look at the top contenders for the checkered flag tonight.


Jeff Gordon

Tied for the lead among active drivers with five career poles, Gordon has a proven track record of success at Richmond. Simply put, if Gordon doesn't win on Saturday, he won't be in the Chase, which would be a colossal disappointment for one of NASCAR's biggest stars.

Heading into the race, Gordon told Pete Pistone of CBS Sports that he would be more aggressive in the final race of the season, and that he fully understands what's on the line.

When asked whether he'll treat a teammate any differently than any other driver in tonight's race, Gordon replied that he has a "responsibility to go out there and be aggressive and do what it takes to win." 

Sounds like somebody's motivated.


Kyle Busch

Currently sitting in 12th overall, and clinging to the second Wild Card berth, Kyle Busch needs a strong showing at the Federated Auto Parts 400 to ensure that he'll be in the Chase.

Fortunately for Busch, he's always been at his best in Richmond, and hasn't finished outside of the top 10 in any race there since 2007.

With four wins in his last seven starts at Richmond, Busch is a good bet to be among the leaders tonight, which would all but guarantee his spot in the Championship.


Denny Hamlin

Heading into tonight's race, Hamlin is in an enviable position. If he wins the Federated Auto Parts 400, Hamlin will lock up the No. 1 seed in the Chase, and he's more than capable of doing so.

Last weekend, the Joe Gibbs Racing star took the title in Atlanta, which was his second Sprint Cup Series victory in a row, and now leads the field with four checkered flags on the season.

If anybody should be considered a favorite tonight in Richmond, it's Hamlin.