Handicapper's guide to making the Chase Grid
September 03, 2014, Stu Hothem, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Full coverage of "One Night in Richmond" series
Entering the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), there are 20 winless drivers who could make the top 30 in driver points with one more chance to make the Chase Grid by going to Victory Lane.
One of those drivers, Matt Kenseth, has already clinched a place in the Chase on points, but with a win he would move to the top of the one-win drivers, halfway up the Chase Grid in eighth place. Although it's been 12 years since his lone Richmond win, he hasn't finished worse than seventh in his past four starts at the track, which includes his first Coors Light Pole there in his first start at the track with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle hold the two provisional positions in the Chase Grid, and each can decide his fate if there is a repeat winner. Newman just needs a 41st-place finish if a driver in the Grid wins another race while Biffle just needs a 22nd-place result. If a new winner, other than Kenseth, becomes the 14th victor of the 2014 season, Newman would need an 18th-place finish while Biffle would need to out-point Newman by 19 markers and stay in front of Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson, the only other drivers who can clinch without a win.
But winning is what matters as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to its fifth short-track race of the season and second at Richmond. So who are the drivers to watch in the winner's circle come the end of the night?
Of the 20 drivers who could crack the top 30 without a win, Tony Stewart has the most wins (three), and he has the best average finish (11.1) at Richmond. In fact, only Chase Grid drivers Kyle Busch (7.0) and Denny Hamlin (9.8) have a better average finish among active drivers. At Atlanta, "Smoke" went for broke, climbing from 12th to fourth by Lap 16, so keep an eye on him at Richmond, where he claimed his first career Sprint Cup Series victory in 1999 and hopes to extend his winning streak to 16 consecutive seasons.
Second on the list is Newman, who has a Richmond win and an 11.3 average finish, tied for fourth-best among active drivers. Newman knows how to step it up in this race, finishing third last year. Although he found himself on the outside looking in for 48 hours after last year's last race before the Chase, he made the playoffs after Martin Truex Jr. was removed from the field.
Third-best is Bowyer, who joins Stewart as the only multiple winners at the track among the 17 winless racers in the top 30 this season. Bowyer has two wins and a 12.0 average finish. Sitting 23 points outside of the provisional Chase, Bowyer is Michael Waltrip Racing's best hope to make the Chase, and he won this race two years ago.
Fourth on the list is Kenseth with a win and a 15.4 average finish at Richmond. Fifth is Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Larson, who has a 16th-place finish in his lone start at the track. Sixth-best with a 16.9 average finish is Biffle, who is winless in 24 starts and his best finish of third came nine years ago in this race.
Below is the complete list of 20 winless drivers who could finish Richmond in the top 30 in points, ranked by average finish. While statistics provide a look at past performance, they can't predict the future in this new format so may the best man, or woman, win on Saturday night.
(While Danica Patrick's three Richmond starts have resulted in progressively worse finishes of 29th, 30th and 34th, she improved 15 positions at Atlanta from her previous best at the track for a career best sixth-place finish, so keep an eye on her as she duels boss Stewart for a Chase berth.)
|Driver||Starts||Wins||Laps Led||Avg. Start||Avg. Finish|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||3||0||0||20.7||21.3|
|Martin Truex Jr.||17||0||48||15.8||21.9|