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Chase cut-off race Saturday at Richmond

The race to this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup is down to the last race.   The drama that has become known as the Chase cut-off race is set for Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway in the Air Guard 400.  A hand full of drivers will vie for the last two spots open in the 12-driver Chase field.
Coming into Richmond , the last two of the 12 Chase berths technically remain up for grabs,  although Greg Biffle certainly looks like a lock.  He’s in 11th place with a 161 point lead over 13th place Ryan Newman and needs only a 42nd place Saturday night to clinch a berth in the Chase field.  Clint Bowyer’ situation is promising but still a bit tenuous.  He has a 117 point lead over Newnan, and needs a 28th place finish to clinch.

Three drivers outside the current top 12 still have a mathematical chance to make the field: Newman, who left Atlanta in 13th place, 117 points out of the top 12; Jamie McMurray 14th, 128 points out: and Mark Martin 147 out in 15th place.  Anyone within 161 points of 12th place can theoretically still make this year’s Chase field.
The 12 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their points re-set to 5000 following Saturday night’s race.  They will then get 10 bonus points for each pre-Chase victory. Those new totals establish the Chase seedings.
Currently, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have five victories apiece and thus, a total of 50 bonus points each.  They’ll start the Chase seeded 1-2.  Johnson gets the top seed via the traditional tie breaker of next best finishes.  
How important are the bonus point?  Consider:
 Jeff Gordon currently is second in the series standings and has secured a Chase berth.  Because he has no race wins this year, he’s destined to have the lowest point total, tied with Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, and Clint Bowyer who also have not won a race this season.  
Drivers to watch Saturday night are Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, currently tied with three wins apiece. If either one of them wins at Richmond, they will start the Chase seeded third with 5040 points, only 10 behind Johnson and Hamlin.  
Here is a brief rundown of the 10 drivers who have already qualified for the Chase.  They are an elite group to say the least.  Collectively, they have combined to win 12 Sprint Cup Championships.
1.  Jimmie Johnson: four-time and defending Cup champion. No one has figured out the Chase format like Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.  Five straight?  Stay tuned.
2. Kevin Harvick:  A leading candidate for Comeback Drive of the year in 2010.  Harvick has led the points most of this season.  Harvick has led the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing this year. A championship for RCR would be Childress’s first since Dale Earnhardt won the title in 1994.
3.  Jeff Gordon:  Contending for his 5th series championship, which would rank second all-time behind Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven apiece.  Gordon won his last championship in 2001.
4.  Kyle Busch:  2009 Nationwide Series Champion, looking for his first Cup championship.  Recognized as one of the sport’s most talented drivers.
5.  Tony Stewart: Two-time Cup champion.  Looking to add a third title, this time as an owner/driver.  The last owner /driver to win the championship was the late Alan Kulwicki in 1967
6.   Carl Edwards:  Winless on the Cup circuit since he won eight races in 2008.  Edwards has to be a real long shot to put together a championship drive.
7.  Matt Kenseth:  2003 Champion, the last year before NASCAR adopted the Chase format.  Steady, quiet, Kenseth has not been the same since Roush Fenway racing moved former crew chief Robbie Reiser to a management position.
8.  Kurt Busch:  His 2004 championship was the first under the Chase format. Has two wins in 2010, leading the charge for the Dodge brigade
9.  Jeff Burton:  In his 16th year on the circuit and still looking for that first championship.  Considered one of the sport’s great ambassadors, perhaps a career in politics down the road.
10.  Denny Hamlin: The hometown hero to Virginia fans. Hamlin’s five wins in 2010 tie him with Jimmie Johnson for the most in the series.   

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