Bubbles are about to burst in Richmond and none are in seltzer water or champagne.
Mathematically, 10 drivers are on the Chase playoff bubble—Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard. All can make NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup final contender list. Realistically, only some will grab a final position.
Tenuous spots are on the line Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway on NASCAR's exciting short track, the .75-mile D-shaped oval with 14 degree banking.
The popular race, Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, Va., has a civil name, but NSCS drivers have been known to bump and bang lap after lap. Plus, they get angry in the process.
Since NASCAR chose placed RIR as the final regular-season event, the race has taken on significance. It's the final pressure cooker before a select top 12 drivers and teams compete for the Sprint Cup crown.
Not long ago, Jimmie Johnson and team had a 77-point lead that evaporated during the last three races to a slim 18-point advantage. Johnson seeks a win to start at the top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but maybe he might be just as happy with some race luck.
“The only thing that will help us with the Chase is a win,” Johnson said. “We are obviously leading the points but all that goes away, and we won’t be leading once we get out of Richmond unless we win.”
Clint Bowyer and team have done just about everything in NASCAR in 2013 but get to the victory lane. They are likely to do well when the Chase begins in Chicago.
We've always done well once we get in,” Bowyer said. “We have a great team around us. We'll do everything we can to be there at the end and push for a championship.”
Kevin Harvick has proved that quitting or coasting is no option at the NSCS level. Even though he is moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, he keeps moving up to the front in current NASCAR races.
“I’m hoping we can repeat the outcome we had there in the spring,” Harvick said. “But the big thing is making sure we can continue to learn things that will help us in the Chase.”
Carl Edwards has only one win but a ton of staying power in 2013 as he has had many strong finishes this season.
“Going into Richmond locked into the Chase is a huge relief for us,” Edwards said. “I know how stressful that race can be. The real story is the Chase and who's going to be in it, and it'll be interesting to watch that, even from the driver seat.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has pleased fans all season without getting a win. They know he has finished up front often, like 14 top 10 finishes. Only four other drivers have done as well or better. Earnhardt is very likely to make the Chase even without snatching the checkered flag at RIR.
“I’m ready to make the Chase and get to Chicago,” Earnhardt said.
Kurt Busch has proved before that a skilled driver can get more from an average car. This season, he has excelled at Furniture Row Racing and may surprise a myriad of NASCAR fans if he makes the Chase.
“We need to get it done on our own Saturday night and not worry about what the other Chase contenders are doing,” Busch said. “No single-car team has ever qualified for the Chase and we're in position to make history.”
It's hard to feel sorry for a driver like Jeff Gordon, who exudes confidence and competence. He and the No. 24 team have had more than their share of bad luck in 2013, but in recent races, they have performed well. If Gordon makes the Chase, he will likely be a savvy contender.
“I've said all along that I think [Chase berths] will come down to the last lap at Richmond,” Gordon said. “We're going to battle all the way to that checkered flag to try and earn one of those spots.”
The chances are favorable for one of the 10 drivers on the bubble for a Chase spot to be first across the start-finish line under the lights at RIR. The chances are likely that most of those 10 in dire need of a win to get into the Chase will have their bubble burst soon—right before their helmet visor.
Fans without tickets for one of the 97,912 seats can catch the key bumping and banging on Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.