Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Final Countdown: Richmond determines Chase; Edwards wins race

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Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images
Disappointment, drama and desire. All three were present Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. For some the last lap was momentous. For others, pure heartbreak. It sealed their fate for the 2013 season.

Those outside the dividing line will spend the remainder of the season working on their notebook for 2014 and racing for wins rather than points. Those inside the line will put everything on the table as they hope to be named the 2013 Sprint Cup Series Champion.

Only three of the 12 in this year's Chase have ever known the glory of being on top. One has dominated the last decade, one has seen a revitalization of his career after a move in the off season, the other is considered the underdog. All are fighting. But to get back to the top, they'll have to beat the other nine guys who are just as hungry as they are.

Five-time Champion Jimmie Johnson spent the first part of the weekend being dad. His second daughter, Lydia, was born early Friday morning in Charlotte. “Just the five-time thing is awfully cool, but two-time, I'm much more proud of being two-time than anything,” he said.

Johnson skipped Friday's practice and qualifying sessions at RIR as Regan Smith filled the seat. Johnson's race was one of disappointment having to start from the rear of the field. The 48 went down a lap early in the event before having battery issues that forced the car to the garage. Johnson finished the regular season second in points and after the reseed retains his position.

Ryan Newman found himself on the outside of the Chase contenders after losing in a tie-breaking situation between Martin Truex Jr. and himself. Of his disappointing night Newman said, “We did everything we could needed to up until that last caution. I'm not sure exactly what unfolded there...I still feel like we lost it on pit road. It's disappointing. We'll go on.”

Defending Series Champion, Brad Keselowski won't be racing for a second consecutive title. The driver of the No. 2 led 142 laps, but finished 17th after being caught on pit road when caution came out and the team could never recover. Post-race he told reporters on pit road, “I don't really have any emotions right now. We weren't good enough to make it and we didn't. That's the reality."

Penske Racing's chances of another title rest in the hands of Joey Logano. Few could have predicted that Logano would make the Chase in his first season with the team, but he's in and is extremely happy about it. “It feels great. I mean, obviously tonight wasn't the night we were looking for as far as where we ran on the racetrack.Now we can reset our goals towards the championship. Got a good shot at it,” said Logano after the race.

The underdog award for the regular season goes to Kurt Busch who has fought his way back into title contention. Driving for a single car team that gets some of their resources from RCR, Busch led 73 laps en route to his Chase berth, giving Furniture Row their first-ever shot at the title.  Busch’s joy was evident both when he got the outside pole for the race, and Saturday night when he told reporters, “It’s an amazing feeling to sit here in Richmond after such a long journey for myself, but to be able to deliver, to do my part along with these guys. I can’t thank them enough. Very proud to have driven the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy into the Chase this year."

Matt Kenseth starts the Chase as the top seed after winning five of the first 26 races. Many questioned his move to Joe Gibbs Racing, but he’s seen a vast improvement since joining the team. The winner of the 2004 title said he feels like the first part of the season has been long, but that he is “Excited to be up on top. Looking forward to Chicago and kicking off."

Carl Edwards won the 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400. The win, along with Johnson's poor performance, catapulted the No. 99 team to first in the standings before the reset. "Our car was really good on the long run," said Edwards. "Plus it was a genius call on Jimmy's (Fennig) part not to pit. We saw that the 48 was having trouble. Then the caution came out. That's what ratcheted us up to the front and put us in the lead."

See the full race finishing order here.

Top 10 standings before the reseed:
  1. Carl Edwards
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Clint Bowyer
  4. Kevin Harvick
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. Matt Kenseth
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  8. Kurt Busch
  9. Greg Biffle
  10. Joey Logano
Chase Standings after the reseed
  1. Matt Kenseth 2015
  2. Jimmie Johnson 2012
  3. Kyle Busch 2012
  4. Kevin Harvick 2006
  5. Carl Edwards 2006
  6. Joey Logano 2003
  7. Greg Biffle 2003
  8. Clint Bowyer 2000
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2000
  10. Kurt Busch 2000
  11. Kasey Kahne 2000 (wild card)
  12. Martin Truex Jr. 2000 (wild card)
See the full points standings here

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