Chase Watch: Who will win, get in at Richmond?
April 24, 2014, Staff Report, NASCAR.com
Hometown hero Hamlin is a favorite to punch his Chase ticket
At Darlington Raceway two weeks ago, Kevin Harvick became the first two-time winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. He's liable to win again this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, where he's won two of the last five races and three overall.
As the season reaches its quarter pole, half of the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set with points leader Jeff Gordon provisionally claiming the eighth spot. He joins race winners Harvick (Phoenix, Darlington); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona); Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas); Carl Edwards (Bristol); Kyle Busch (Auto Club); Kurt Busch (Martinsville) and Joey Logano (Texas).
After the first off-week of the year, NASCAR heads to its third short-track race of the season. Here are five winless drivers in 2014 who could begin to fill out the second half of the Chase Grid.
Growing up in Chesterfield, Va., a little more than 30 minutes south, Hamlin returns to his home track as a favorite to get his third win at the 3/4-mile oval. He holds the top driver rating (114.8), fastest average green flag speed (116.782 mph), a series-high 584 fastest laps run and a best average running position of 6.6. His 8.9 average finish in the loop data era is fourth-best among active drivers to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch (7.2) and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Tony Stewart (8.7).
A two-time Richmond winner, Bowyer has the fifth-best average finish among active drivers at 10.1. He joins Hamlin as one of four drivers with a driver rating over 100 (100.7). The others are 2014 race winners Kyle Busch and Harvick. Before Bowyer's infamous spin in last fall's final race before the Chase, he had reeled off three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a runner-up result in this race last year.
With three wins at The Action Track, Stewart can tie Kyle Busch for most victories among active drivers with another visit to Victory Lane on Saturday night. He would also join teammates Kurt Busch and Harvick in the provisional Chase Grid, giving Stewart-Haas Racing four wins in nine races this season. Stewart has the second-best average finish among active drivers at 8.7 since 2005. He missed last fall's race at the track because of injury and finished 18th in the spring, but he had four consecutive top-10 finishes in 2011 and 2012 with a third-place finish two years ago in this race.
A two-time Richmond winner, his runner-up finish in the 2012 fall event raced him into that year's Chase, and his Coors Light Pole in last fall's race set a track record and broke NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson's record with at least one pole in 21 consecutive seasons. So Gordon performs well under pressure at this bullring that races like a superspeedway. At Richmond, he has the sixth-best Driver Rating (96.0), the best career average start (7.6) and most Coors Light Poles (6) among active drivers.
A Richmond winner in the fall of 2003, Newman has three top-10 finishes, including a third-place finish last fall, in his last five races and hasn't finished worse than 15th in that span in the capital of Virginia. With an eighth-best driver rating of 91.6, Newman has spent the third-most laps in the top 15 (5,419) for 75.1 percent of all races since 2005. He has the second-most quality passes (550), or green-flag passes of a car running in the top 15.
Go deeper: Check out NASCAR's Richmond Statistical Analysis for more stats and notes for Saturday's Toyota Owners 400 (7 p.m. ET, FOX).
Heading into the ninth race of NASCAR's regular season, here is how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings look:
||Winner: Phoenix, Darlington
|3.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.
||Winner: Las Vegas
|9.||Matt Kenseth||2nd in points|
||5th in points|
||9th in points|
||10th in points|
||11th in points|
||12th in points|
||13th in points|
||14th in points|