This is it. We’re down to the final race of the Sprint Cup Series regular season, the Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway. For those of you who want to hang out during this weekend’s live blog at Bleacher Report, I’ll be in charge, so feel free to stop by and enjoy yourself.
There’s usually a bit of drama in this race every year as the final drivers to make it into the Chase settle in. But Greg Biffle needs only to finish 42nd to be guaranteed in, while Clint Bowyer’s magic number is 28th. Don’t expect a surprise move by Jamie McMurray to make it (even though it appears that every time we don’t expect him to perform well, he does).
So who looks good for this weekend’s race?
My pick for the weekend is Kyle Busch, because not picking him at Richmond is to bet on the snowball in hell. True, he only has two wins in 11 starts, but nine top five finishes? Zero finishes off the lead lap? Over 10 percent of a possible 4,410 laps spent in front? Come on.
I suppose Mark Martin, based on his recent performance and the unlikely chances of him making this year’s Chase, can be considered a dark horse, right? Martin has 27 top-10s in 49 Richmond starts. Ironically, a 46-point penalty accrued a lone win at Richmond in 1990, which was the difference between winning and losing that year’s championship to Dale Earnhardt.
Here are three more drivers to substantiate the column and make your fantasy prospects that much more interesting:
Clint Bowyer’s never finished worse than 18th at Richmond, making his Chase prospects look pretty good (well, on a “making it in” basis). True, finishing 12th four times isn’t wildly impressive, with his spring 2008 win his only top five finish at the track. But he gets the job done, at the very least, which makes him a solid pick.
If Bowyer stumbles, though, and Jamie McMurray can’t pull off a Chase shocker, look for Ryan Newman to do everything he can to play the spoiler. Newman’s got 11 top 10 finishes in 17 Richmond starts, marked by a win in this race in 2003. Be wary, though. Newman has finished better in the spring Richmond race than the fall one in each of the past six years.
Finally, if you want a true left-field pick, have a look at Marcos Ambrose. He’s got two finishes of 11th or better at Richmond. In a way Richmond is a lot like the V8 Supercar circuits that Ambrose conquered down in Australia, featuring sharp turns with a lot of heavy braking. He’s no championship threat, but he can surprise with a decent finish.
(By the same token, so, too, might Mattias Ekstrom, the Red Bull driver who has made a name for himself as the DTM touring car champion in Germany.)