At the conclusion of Sunday night in Atlanta, yet another driver clinched a berth into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But with Kasey Kahne's first victory of the season, the door was nearly slammed shut for several other drivers without a win.
Given one last opportunity in Richmond, this Saturday night will be a crucial event for racers on the bubble. With names such as Kyle Larson, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer needing a strong run and some help, the Richmond race is important for each driver.
Along with those notable names, several others are in need of a win to make the Chase. Those drivers include Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick—who had a career-best finish in Atlanta.
Ahead of the final race before the Chase begins, here's a look at the schedule, latest NASCAR team news and drivers to watch during the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Federated Auto Parts 400 Information
Where: Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Virginia
When: Saturday, Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Latest Team News
Heading into the final race before the Chase, the storylines are all surrounding the drivers looking to make the field. While Kahne and many others have secured their spot with a win, the same can't be said for several other top racers.
As many fans know, being inside the top 30 with a win means a guaranteed spot into NASCAR's postseason. But there are still several drivers who have a shot at making it without a victory.
Per a NASCAR release, both Newman and Biffle have a solid chance to make the postseason. For Newman, he simply needs to finish 41st or better to clinch a spot—regardless of who wins—and has other scenarios with laps led.
Mark Garrow of Performance Racing Network notes that both Newman and Larson should be comfortable after Atlanta:
Also in good shape points wise @RyanJNewman plus 42 going into Richmond. Leaves 1 spot up for grabs.— Mark Garrow (@GuruGarrow) September 1, 2014
Meanwhile, Biffle needs a repeat winner and finish of 22nd or better to definitively make the Chase. For Larson and Bowyer, they both have slightly longer odds but need to beat out Biffle or Newman for that final spot.
Outside of the Chase standings, there is another rivalry brewing after an on-track incident. On Sunday night, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch made contact, which left Truex fuming after the race, as Marty Smith of ESPN shared:
Martin Truex in Kyle Busch's car pic.twitter.com/f6bq7M3ruL— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) September 1, 2014
Truex is well outside of the Chase but could take a spot with a win. Rather than being able to focus on a victory, he left Atlanta upset with Busch and shared his thoughts with Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer:
Truex: " I passed him clean earlier and then he comes back and hits me from behind. It was totally uncalled for"— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) September 1, 2014
Needless to say, this will be a battle to watch on the track this coming weekend. With Truex looking to earn a spot in the Chase and Busch already having his name in the running, the two might lock up again in Richmond.
But then again, which driver hasn't battled with Busch over the last several years?
Drivers to Watch
In the midst of one of his best seasons in the Sprint Cup series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could build even more momentum heading into the Chase.
During his career at Richmond, Earnhardt has three victories. But since switching over to Hendrick Motorsports, Junior has not collected a checkered flag in 13 tries at the track.
Finishing just outside of the top 10 might have been good enough in past seasons, but Earnhardt was not happy with the performance after the Atlanta race:
The 88 team appreciates the support each week regardless of the result. It motivates/inspires us. 11th don't cut it, we strive for more.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 1, 2014
Heading to Richmond, the Hendrick driver has three top-10 finishes at the track in his last five starts. That includes a seventh-place result in April, one he'll certainly try to improve upon Saturday night.
Along with a chance at another victory, he would also be the only driver entering the Chase with four wins. On a year where he's found resurgence, being on top of the Chase Grid heading into the playoffs would be massive.
This past weekend was an interesting one for Kevin Harvick, who has a chance to get the sour taste out of his mouth in Richmond.
On Saturday night, Harvick paced the field throughout the night to take the Nationwide race by a wide margin. Heading into the Sprint Cup race with the pole, he was racing away from the field again before falling off.
One of the more interesting moments came when he was confronted by a squirrel on the track, per Fox Sports: NASCAR:
But even with a critter trying to stop him, Harvick jumped back close to the top of the leaderboard late in the race. Unfortunately, that effort would fall just short with a late accident that dropped him back down.
Utter provides the crucial facts for Harvick's top-20 finish in Atlanta:
Harvick led 195 laps, finished 19th— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) September 1, 2014
Regardless of where he finishes, Harvick has a guaranteed spot in the Chase and no pressure going into the event. But in a similar situation to Earnhardt, another victory would put him atop the Chase Grid and in great position heading into the postseason.
Who will win in Richmond?
Whether it's out of necessity or simply his prior dominance on the track, Stewart should be a contender on Saturday night.
Much like the previous drivers to watch, Stewart has three victories in Richmond. While he has never won at the course as a driver-owner for Stewart-Haas Racing, the three-time points champion is in desperate need ahead of the Chase.
Though last week marked the return for Stewart with a heavy heart, a win at Richmond would truly make a statement. Along with that, it would also solidify a Chase spot and push another contender outside of the window.
A victory would change his entire outlook for the remainder of the season.
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