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Driver Reports: Richmond looms

September 02, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

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Harvick moves up, among seven drivers to be locked into Chase; who's on the bubble?

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 837 points.
Last week: What’s wrong with Johnson? The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has finished outside the top 10 in four of the past five races. His 28th-place showing Sunday at Atlanta was actually his best finish in the past three races. Johnson is locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but it remains to be seen if he can recover.
What he said: “The team did an awesome job fixing the car... Twice that is. #Believe” (Via Twitter)
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Johnson has three wins, five top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Richmond, Johnson ranks ninth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 14.9. He finished 12th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

2. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is second in the standings with 809 points.
Last week: Bowyer may have had his best car of the year, yet he finished 39th at Atlanta after completing 192 of 325 laps. Unfortunately for the No. 15, Bowyer’s engine blew up just as the car was establishing itself as the class of the field. A strong finish likely would have vaulted Bowyer to first place in the standings. He’s still second, but also still looking for his first win of the season.
What he said: “Well, it certainly sucks. You know, it’s part of it. I mean everybody has engine issues. We’re pushing hard for the Chase to try to win a championship. (After practice) I told them all to make some adjustments and go for a win. And as soon as the track got going into the night there we gained some grip and our car really took off. It was ours to lose and unfortunately we found a way to lose. I’m going to have a beer.”
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Bowyer has two wins, three top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Richmond, Bowyer ranks fourth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 9.7. He finished second in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

3. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is third in the standings with 795 points.
Last week: Harvick was among four drivers to clinch an automatic berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and he did so with a ninth-place finish at Atlanta. He didn’t lead any laps, but gained 21 spots on the grid after qualifying 30th. Perhaps more than anyone, Harvick is ‘Happy’ to be back at Richmond, site of his first win this year.
What he said: “Obviously we’re happy to be in the Chase. Our day wasn’t very good. Our car was just terribly tight all night long and drove nothing like it did in practice. We’ll work on that and try to figure that out. But all in all, it’s been an OK season so far and obviously you want to put yourself in position to race for the championship and everybody has done a good job doing that. So, we’ll go to Richmond next week and try to win another race.”
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Harvick has three wins, seven top-fives, 16 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Harvick ranks second out of 56 drivers with an average place of 7.6. He won the race at Richmond earlier this season.

4. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is fourth in the standings with 795 points.
Last week: Once again, Edwards had a fast Ford. Once again, he didn’t finish the race inside the top 10. Staying out on old tires hurt the No. 99 team, and the veteran got into it with Jeff Gordon in multiple instances, leading the two to have a heated conversation in the garage area afterward following Edwards’ 18th-place finish.
What he said: “(Gordon and I) don’t agree on what happened and finally he got frustrated enough with the conversation that he just walked away, which might be smart. We were racing really early and he just slides on me and I thought it was really out of character for him and I didn’t understand what was going on there, so I did everything I could to not wreck us both. So naturally the next time we were around each other I raced him as hard as I could, and then going down the back straightaway I thought he just ran into my door and it kind of tore up our right side. He thought I ran into him, so I think it was a case where both of us were mad at each other. He wasn’t very happy with our conversation, but at the end of the day I felt like he was the aggressor and didn’t give me much of an opportunity to drive my race car that first time.”
Outlook: In 18 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Edwards has three top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Edwards ranks 10th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 13.0. He finished sixth in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is fifth in the standings with 786 points.
Last week: Busch continues to emerge as a contender to win this year’s championship. His Atlanta victory, snatched when he passed Joey Logano and led the final 36 laps, was his fourth of the year and guaranteed the driver a top-10 finishing position. That means Busch will collect three bonus points per win and start the Chase with an edge over nearly every other driver.
What he said: “I wasn’t happy with the race car at all in the beginning of the race, but Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys made some really good calls and got us some great adjustments to get us back up. Track position -- my boys, my boys on pit road. What can I say? They’re just -- that’s the same group since 2008. They’re amazing. I love those guys. I would do anything for them.”
Outlook: In 17 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Busch has four wins, 12 top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Busch ranks third out of 56 drivers with an average place of 7.7. He finished 24th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

6. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is sixth in the standings with 768 points.
Last week: Kenseth officially locked up an automatic berth into the Chase, but he wasn’t too happy about it. Kenseth radioed that something in his car broke, and he lost a lap early while pitting to look for the problem. He recovered well enough to finish 12th.
What he said: “It was more than a battle. It was a really frustrating -- a trying night for sure. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) did a good job of putting up with me and keeping his head, and figure out how to get us back in the game. So, without a lot of cautions -- I had something kind of break or go wrong with the car earlier -- we never could figure out what it was. It was just about impossible to drive.”
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Kenseth has one win, four top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Kenseth ranks 16th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 16.8. He finished seventh in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is seventh in the standings with 750 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. finished eighth, his second consecutive top-10 effort after his Chase chances began to shrink following his two-race slump. Junior gave Hendrick Motorsports two drivers in the top 10 (Jeff Gordon was the other) on a night where the organization struggled, and set himself up to clinch an automatic berth into the postseason this week at Richmond.
What he said: “I was real thankful the car was as good as it was. We have struggled here and not ran great here the last several trips. It’s so hard and it’s such a struggle to get a car that has a good balance and we did. The car had great speed at the end of the race; we just got restarted in the wrong lane a couple of times and lost some spots there.”
Outlook: In 28 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Earnhardt Jr. has three wins, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. ranks 12th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 15.2. He finished 10th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

8. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is eighth in the standings with 729 points.
Last week: Logano may be the hottest driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He finished second to Kyle Busch on Saturday in a fast No. 22 Ford, and gained two spots in the standings in the process. He controls his own postseason destiny and has a win to fall back on, too, should he slip out of the top 10 following Richmond. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “It took probably six laps to get it going and we proved that we had the long-run car, and we were trying to get there. I just needed five more laps for me to have a shot at it. It’s just so frustrating when you’ve got the winning car and you don’t win. That’s three straight top-fives with this car, though, and that’s impressive.”
Outlook:
In nine career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Logano has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Richmond, Logano ranks 20th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 18.3. He finished third in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

9. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is ninth in the standings with 727 points.
Last week: Biffle stayed out of major trouble at Atlanta, and the result was a solid 15th-place finish in which the driver of the No. 16 Ford earned 29 points. It was the driver’s fifth consecutive race finishing inside the top 20. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
Outlook: In 22 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Biffle has two top-fives, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Biffle ranks 19th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 17.6. He finished 36th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

10. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 10th in the standings with 719 points.
Last week: One week after car trouble sent him out of the top 10, Busch climbed back in following a fourth-place finish at Atlanta. His ridiculously strong finishing kick puts Furniture Row Racing one step closer to becoming the first single-car team to qualify for the Chase. Not bad, considering Busch is headed to Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
What he said: “The inside lane was definitely the preferred lane on restarts and I didn’t realize how bad the outside was until I got to try it on the outside of Kyle (Busch). And I could not get any power down up there. And on the inside, it’s like you’ve got all the power you can just put it to the floor and go. And inside versus outside was a tremendous difference. The seas parted for me and we went from 11th to second and we were able to hold on to fourth.”
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Busch has one win, four top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Richmond, Busch ranks 11th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 15.0. He finished ninth in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

12. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 12th in the standings with 709 points.
Last week: Kahne has been all over the place lately, as evidenced by his 36th-place finish at Atlanta one week after finishing second at Bristol. On Sunday night under the lights, it was Kahne and teammate Jimmie Johnson getting into each other, which sent both drivers out of the race. Kahne returned, but finished 36th. His two wins enabled him to clinch at least a Wild Card berth, but he won’t receive bonus points for his two wins unless he finishes in the top 10.
Outlook: In 19 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Kahne has one win, four top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Kahne ranks 15th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 16.4. He finished 21st in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

13. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 13th in the standings with 704 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. not only soared to the front of the pack to finish third, he did so while where a specially designed cast to cover the broken wrist on his right hand. In driving through the pain, Truex Jr. maintained his grip -- pardon the pun -- on the second of two Wild Card spots. With a win at Sonoma already in hand, Truex controls his own destiny this week.
What he said: “It was a good battle, that’s for sure. We really needed to win this thing to be honest with you. I really wanted to win it. As bad as my wrist was hurting, and as bad as the car was for a lot of the race, I was pretty excited there at the end and felt like I was giving it more than I maybe could have or had before. Just came up a little bit short.”
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Truex Jr. has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Richmond, Truex Jr. ranks 17th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 16.8. He finished 17th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

Three in the rearview mirror …

Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is 11th in the standings with 713 points.
Last week: This is starting to look awfully familiar. Gordon emerged from scrapes with multiple drivers -- most notably Carl Edwards -- to finish sixth at Atlanta and gain some real ground in the standings. He’s up to 11th and enters Richmond needing a great finish to make the Chase. Which is the exact same scenario as last year, in which Gordon qualified for the postseason.
Outlook: In 41 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon has two wins, 16 top-fives, 25 top-10s and five poles. In the past eight years at Richmond, Gordon ranks eighth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 13.9. He finished 11th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Where he stands:
Newman is 14th in the standings with 699 points.
Last week: Newman finished fifth at Atlanta, his fifth top-five of the year, and actually lost ground in the Wild Card standings. Newman would make the Chase with a win at Richmond, but his other option is to hope Kasey Kahne (with two victories) does well and enters the top 10, bumping out a winless driver -- like Kurt Busch -- in doing so. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Newman has one win, five top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Richmond, Newman ranks fifth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 11.6. He finished 15th in the race at Richmond earlier this season.

Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is 15th in the standings with 691 points.
Last week: What a kick to the gut for the defending champion. Keselowski’s engine blew up as the defending champion was leading the race. The result was a 35th-place finish and, perhaps, as much as a 35-point swing. When you think about those types of missed chances, combined with the 25-point post-Texas penalty, it just seems like it wasn’t Keselowski’s year. He’s a long shot to make the Chase and has to win at Richmond to even have a chance.
Outlook: In eight career starts at Richmond International Raceway, Keselowski has two top-10s. In the past eight years at Richmond, Keselowski ranks 18th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 17.6. He finished 33rd in the race at Richmond earlier this season.