The regular NASCAR season of 26 races is over and 12 drivers have qualified for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoffs after an early morning finish dictated by sporadic rain in Richmond.
Denny Hamlin vaulted to the top spot with his four wins, but Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Brad Keselowski are back only three points with their hat trick win totals.
Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are a mere six points behind Hamlin with their double wins and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth occupy seventh and eighth with their single wins.
Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have zero wins in 2012 yet they are ninth and tenth in the Chase–12 points back from leader Hamlin.
It’s no surprise that Kasey Kahne held on to his Wild Card spot with two wins, but the shocker in Richmond was the call by Kyle Busch’s crew chief Dave Rogers to stay out when other leaders pitted for fresh tires.
Rogers felt that more rain was coming and NASCAR would soon call the race. Instead leaders including Jeff Gordon rocketed past Busch’s No. 18 relegating him to a 16th place finish. Gordon nabbed second place to take the final Wild Card spot from Busch by three points—just three positions on the Richmond track.
The single wins of Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano were not enough to lift them into contention with their point totals lacking. Neither Carl Edwards nor Paul Menard with zero wins was able to help their cause with a much needed victory.
The final dozen NSCS “rock and drop” list this week: (Includes points behind and position moves)
1. Denny Hamlin (Leader) [+6]
2. Jimmie Johnson (-3) [+2]
3. Tony Stewart (-3) [+7]
4. Brad Keselowski (-3) [+2]
5. Greg Biffle (-6) [-4]
6. Clint Bowyer (-6) [+2]
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-9) [-5]
8. Matt Kenseth (-9) [-5]
9. Kevin Harvick (-12) [--]
10. Martin Truex Jr. (-12) [-5]
11. Kasey Kahne (-12) [--]
12. Jeff Gordon (-12) [+1]
Kyle Busch dropped one position on the leader ladder, but owing to the shuffling and resetting of points is now a negative 1238 points from leader Denny Hamlin.
Heading into the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup start in Chicago Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards shared a range of emotions following the conclusion of the decisive Richmond race. The thoughts of the Chase leader, two great drivers eliminated and a champion nabbing the final Wild Card seat tell much about making and not making the Chase cut.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota)
“We've never won a championship,” Hamlin said. “We're going out there trying to win our first. I'm going to race week-to-week, not think about a championship until I get to Homestead.
“It sucks to not have Kyle in the Chase. It's important for JGR. They need cars in the Chase to make a living. So it's tough. That part of it's tough. It's up to us to go out there and try to perform and get them a championship with one of their cars.”
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
“We missed,” Busch said. “That’s it—plain and simple. There’s no right way to handle this situation.”
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford)
“This isn’t about one race,” Edwards said. “It is 26 races and we just let too many points get away for a bunch of different reasons. We will just go try to build the best team we can for next year and try to make sure a Ford wins this championship.
“It is going to be wild to not be in the championship hunt. It won’t be as much fun at all.”
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet)
“What an exhausting race,” Gordon said. “So much pressure on us. We were a lap down, we just never gave up. That is just an awesome effort. That is what the Chase and the Wild Card is all about right there. You want it to come down to the final laps at Richmond. I have been predicting this for weeks that it is going to come down to it, I just didn’t know if we were going to be able to pull it off.
“Now let’s go win us this championship. After that effort we can definitely do this thing.”
Ten races remain for 12 potential champions. A few tend to struggle early on and a few will likely excel. It all starts at Chicagoland Speedway for the Geico 400 on Sept. 16th at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
For 26 races it was all about getting in the Chase—being one of the final 12—now it’s all about being ahead of the other 11 Chase contenders at the checkered flag for 10 races.
Ten green flags await teams and fans.
For race details go to www.chicagolandspeedway.com
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.