Under the lights at Richmond International Raceway, things were bound to get hot. The final race before The Chase raises tempers and engages dust-blanketed calculators. “Who has to do what to get into the playoff? Can he make it with no wins? What if?” Hearts and brains were set to go into overtime to keep up with the flow of events.
Everyone was okay up until the last quarter of the race.
Before that, things went slowly. Laps ticked off, drivers swapped the lead, and a few cautions fell. Brad Keselowski made a strong case early, leading the most laps by night’s end. With Jeff Gordon bobbing throughout the field, all Keselowski needed to do at that point was win, and he would be in the finals. Gordon’s chances grew stronger when Joey Logano went two laps down, but he dealt with issues of his own.
Everything changed when Jimmie Johnson hit the wall.
Johnson hadn’t practiced in his car; he was with his wife Chandra after the birth of their second daughter, Lydia. He went down a lap early, and then experienced battery issues later. It wasn’t until a round of green flag stops began when a tire let go on the No. 48. The car smacked the wall, shaking parts out of every crevice, and the yellow came out. When this happened, the leaders had pitted or were pitting, locking them all a lap down.
This immediately erased any progress made, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Keselowski’s case. His chances were done.
After that, Carl Edwards rose to the top, but Ryan Newman was there, too. At that moment in time, he needed to win to get in The Chase, and he raced like it. He has slipped past the No. 99 when a caution flew for Clint Bowyer spinning. The field came in, and Newman’s crew caused him to fall a few spots. He went from having a Wild Card spot and a win in his hands to nothing in fourteen seconds.
On the final restart, Edwards lined up second with three laps to go. Paul Menard had exited the pits first and was in control of the restart. Since he took two tires, it was difficult for him to get up to speed. He went door-to-door with Edwards, and the No. 99 decided he could go. It seemed like a blatant jumping of the start, but no penalties arose.
Edwards sailed to a second win. Logano slipped back into the top ten in points, pushing Gordon out. Kasey Kahne’s two wins earned him a Wild Card spot, and the other one went to Martin Truex Jr.
After the race, controversy began to stir involving Bowyer’s spin. From in-car camera shots, combined with weird radio transmissions from his team, it seemed like he spun the No. 15 on purpose. Truex and Gordon had been battling for the past few laps when Bowyer looped around, so it was concluded he did this to aid his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate into The Chase. Both the driver and his owner, Michael Waltrip, deny everything.
It was a wild night at Richmond, but don’t settle in just yet. We have ten fast-paced races left, and this is how the points will look going into Chicagoland next weekend:
The Chase (*-indicates Wild Card recipient)
1. Matt Kenseth (–)
2. Jimmie Johnson (-3)
2. Kyle Busch (-3)
4. Kevin Harvick (-9)
4. Carl Edwards (-9)
6. Joey Logano (-12)
6. Greg Biffle (-12)
8. Clint Bowyer (-15)
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-15)
8. Kurt Busch (-15)
8. *Kasey Kahne (-15)
8. *Martin Truex Jr. (-15)