|Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images|
Richmond provided the drama fans desired and even Mother Nature had a front row seat.
Let's look at brief answers to the original five questions and then dive into new questions.
1. Who will win the wild card battle? I gave the second spot to Kyle Busch, but it is Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon who head to the Chase. One point made the difference in the wild card, just as it did in last year's championship.
2. Will Denny Hamlin continue his domination and win three in a row? Nope, although for a while he was strong. Hamlin finished 18th after pitting when he ran short on fuel.
3. Who will fare better in the battle of the seat swappers: Matt Kenseth or Joey Logano? Like I guessed, it was Kenseth. Logano had a rough night, finishing 30th while Kenseth finished in 5th.
4. Will the Nationwide championship be a repeat of 2011, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. vs. Elliott Sadler? Yes, Hornish is too far behind at this point. Even after an accident, Sadler is just ONE POINT ahead of Stenhouse with eight more races in the season. Game on!
5. How will Travis Pastrana fare with Roush Fenway Racing? I predicted a top 15 finish, and although he finished 17th, it was a successful night. Pastrana performance would improve in better equipment.
Here are my questions after the racing at Richmond:
1. MWR has made the Chase for the first time, but can they compete for the title?
If you are a regular reader of Skirts and Scuffs, you know I write the MWR Weekly Wrap-Up column. I have followed MWR probably more closely than anyone you know, so this is my area of expertise.
I see MWR as a contender for the championship. Their teams have been outrunning Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs on a weekly basis. The addition of Scott Miller (competition director) has been a boost to the team. Miller previously worked at Richard Childress Racing.
This season MWR has two wins (both Bowyer), 12 top 5s (6 each), and 29 top 10s (15 for Bowyer, 14 for Truex). To compare with another two-car team in the Chase, Roush's Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth have a total of three wins, 20 top 5s and 21 top 10s. Those comparable stats show Michael Waltrip Racing is capable of running with the "powerhouse" teams.
Whether either Martin Truex Jr. or Clint Bowyer wins the title or not, competing in the Chase is a huge step for the organization.
2. All four Hendrick Motorsports teams are in the Chase. Who is the favorite?
|Kahne and Gordon celebrate their Wild Card spots.|
Credit: Christ Graythen/Getty Images
Jimmie Johnson is the favorite in the HMS stable, in my opinion, because he is good at the Chase tracks. Will he be crowned "Mr. Six Time?" Time will tell.
3. Of those on the outside looking in, who could be the spoiler?
Drivers like Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and even Mark Martin come to mind.
Of those four, I would choose Carl Edwards as one who will excel. He has a lot to prove because it has been 59 races since his last trip to victory lane. The driver of the No. 99 is strong at Chase tracks. He has won at Dover, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
4. Ricky Stenhouse is "moving on up" to the Cup series next season. Does he need the Nationwide win more than Elliott Sadler?
Yes. Judging from what I have read through social media, many think that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is moving to the Cup Series too soon. I disagree and think he is ready.
Stenhouse Jr. is the 2011 Nationwide champion, has four wins this season and an incredible 15 top-5 finishes. What more can he do in the Nationwide Series?
5. Elliott Sadler is without a ride for next season. Would a Nationwide championship guarantee him a ride for 2012? If the options present themselves, which series should he choose: Nationwide or Cup?
A championship does not guarantee Elliott Sadler a ride because everything depends on the sponsorship money. Even with his excellent performance this season, he and Richard Childress are parting ways and Sadler is left flapping in the wind.
The situation begs the question, should Sadler go back to the Cup series? Maybe part-time, but not a full schedule. He is doing great in Nationwide, and seems happy there. Why not be a big fish in a smaller pond instead of a small fish in a big pond?