Thursday, September 6, 2012

5 Questions Before Richmond International Raceway

Who will be gracing the stage on Saturday night?
Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR
Richmond is going to be a nail-biter for many fans and drivers alike. For those in the wild card battle, there are no more chances - Richmond is GO time. For a driver like Carl Edwards, the Richmond race is a must-win if he wants to head into the Chase. For Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, aka the bubble boys, this is pedal-to-the-metal, take-no-prisoners racing.

I am expecting some fireworks on Saturday night, and not just after the race. Here is what I am pondering as we head to RIR this weekend.

1. Who will win the wild card battle? 

The Chase scenarios are numerous. The what ifs can have your head spinning for miles, but it boils down to this:

Kasey Kahne sits in the No. 1 wild card position. A win would clinch a Chase berth. If Stewart (10th in points) stays in the top 10, Kahne clinches a Chase spot. If Stewart falls out of the top 10, Kahne will clinch a spot if a one-win driver outside the top 10 does not win. If Kyle Busch supplants Stewart in the top 10, and Jeff Gordon wins, Kahne clinches a spot by finishing 13th or better, 14th with at least one lap led or 15th with the most laps led.

The next closest drivers, each with one win are Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.

Kyle Busch -  If Stewart remains in the top 10 or if Kahne supplants Stewart in the top 10, Busch will clinch a Chase spot by losing 12 or fewer points to Jeff Gordon AND by losing 40 or fewer points to Marcos Ambrose. A win would guarantee Busch a Chase berth.

Jeff Gordon -  If Stewart remains in the top 10 or if Kahne supplants Stewart in the top 10, Gordon will clinch by finishing 13 points ahead of Buschat Richmond AND by losing 28 or fewer points to Ambrose AND by losing 37 or fewer points to Ryan Newman. If Busch supplants Stewart in the top 10, Gordon would clinch a Chase berth with a win AND finishing 18 points ahead of Kahne at Richmond.

Now that the scenarios are put to rest, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon have some of the best race stats at Richmond. Busch has four wins and an average finish of 4.7, while Gordon has two wins and an average finish of 14.7. I am not cancelling out the hopes of Kasey Kahne fans, but one win and an average finish of 18.4 is still good enough to possibly get him a solid finish.

My prediction, when the fireworks subside at Richmond: the wild card spots will go to Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.

2. Will Denny Hamlin continue his domination and win three in a row?

There is no denying that fact that Denny Hamlin is on a hot streak, being the first driver to win two in a row. With four wins this season, this could just be the start of it all.

Richmond and Hamlin together are magical. Maybe it is the fact that he is from nearby Chesterfield, Va., but Hamlin is a sure bet to succeed at RIR. (Note to fantasy racing players, lock Hamlin in!)

With two wins, seven top 5s and nine top 10s in just 13 career starts, I am putting my money on Hamlin.

3. Who will fare better in the battle of the seat swappers: Matt Kenseth or Joey Logano?

Looking again at the numbers, Kenseth will win this battle. In 25 starts he has a total of one win, three top 5s and nine top 10s with an average finish of 17th. In seven starts, Logano has no wins, one top 5 and top 10, with an average finish of 17.6. Based on stats and experience, I give Kenseth the upper hand but would welcome Logano to prove me wrong.

4. Will the Nationwide championship be a repeat of 2011, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. vs. Elliott Sadler?

I consulted my Magic 8 ball for this answer. It said, "Without a doubt!" I concur, never question a Magic 8 ball!

Heading into Richmond, Sadler is just 12 points ahead of Stenhouse. With nine races to go, I do not see the complexion of the championship changing. Sam Hornish Jr. could be a factor, just 32 behind, but I think his focus is scattered right now.

Who is going to win the championship? We'll chat about that after Richmond!

5. How will Travis Pastrana fare with Roush Fenway Racing? 

Stepping into the No. 60 ride, Travis Pastrana has large shoes to fill. That ride boasts the most wins in Nationwide history, a total of 90 wins with a roster of A-list stars from Carl Edwards to Greg Biffle and Mark Martin. No pressure, right?

I do not expect to see Pastrana hitting victory lane this weekend, but I do think we will get a top 15 finish. He has raced once at RIR, finished in 22nd ... not bad considering that was his first stockcar race. But in all honesty, considering RAB equipment versus RFR equipment, I see a better finish in his future.

Just thinking ahead, I wonder what Pastrana will do to celebrate his first victory? NASCAR has cool traditions. We have Carl Edwards' backflip, Austin Dillon's slide, Kurt Busch's unwind lap but Pastrana is the master of the X-Games. Again, no pressure for him, but I want to see something cool! Sound off in the comments with insane ideas of how Pastrana should celebrate his first victory.

(Chase stats courtesy of NASCAR)

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