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Notebook: Must-win approach is in effect at RIR

September 08, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Edwards: Bubble drivers won't think twice about doing what it takes to clinch

For several weeks in the Sprint Cup Series, winning races is all that's mattered -- especially for the guys locked in the top 10 in the standings. Saturday at Richmond, more than a handful of drivers will need to reach Victory Lane to have any shot at making the playoffs.

Carl Edwards, who led the championship for a number of weeks this season, understands just how vital momentum is with one race left before the Chase and says drivers on the bubble will be putting everything on the line at RIR.

Richmond: Chase clinch scenarios

Three spots remain
Fourteen drivers are mathematically eligible | Four control their own destinies
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: A finish of 20th or better clinches a spot. Even if Keselowski does knock Earnhardt out of the top 10, he could still earn a Chase berth if there is only one winner from spots 11th to 02th.
Tony Stewart: A finish of 18th or better clinches a spot. Like Earnhardt, even if Keselowski does knock Stewart out of the top 10, Stewart could still earn a Chase berth if there is only one winner from spots 11th to 20th.
Denny Hamlin: A win, and he's in. Hamlin doesn't have to win, though. If he stays ahead of all one-win drivers, and there are no other two-win drivers inside the top 20, he's in. Also, if Keselowski does vault into the top 10, Hamlin could still make the Chase if there is a two-win driver from 11th to 20th as long as he's higher in points than any other one-win driver.
A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger is where the wild card drama starts to ratchet up. A win is the onlything that matters and he'll need a win and movement up the points to nab the tie-breaker. He finished seventh at RIR in April.
Clint Bowyer: Of the winless drivers, Bowyer might be the best bet. Bowyer won here in 2008, and has an average finish of 9.5. He needs a win, and some help.
Greg Biffle: One of six winless drivers who won in 2010, Biffle's best Richmond finish was third in 2005. He needs a win, and some help.
Martin Truex Jr.: Two of his past four finishes have been in the top five. His best finish at RIR is fifth in 2008. He needs a win, and some help.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne, who needs a win and some help, won at Richmond in 2005, his first career victory.
Joey Logano: Needs a win and help. His best finish at RIR was fourth in 2010.
Mark Martin: Needs a win and help; he won at Richmond in 1990.
Paul Menard: Win, and he's in. His best finish at RIR is 16th in 2007.
Marcos Ambrose: If he wins, and gets into the top 20, he's in. Two of his past three Richmond finishes were in the top 10.
Juan Montoya: Needs a win and help. His best finish was sixth in May of last year.
David Ragan: If he wins, and gets into the top 20, he's in. He finished fourth in April, and third in 2007.

"I think everyone will be trying as hard as they possibly can because winning is all that matters right now," Edwards said. "I think all the guys go to every track with the idea to win, but I guess you might see guys going for it or putting themselves in situations they might normally think twice about, just because they do want to win so badly -- especially guys that are right there on that bubble."

Truex still charging

Martin Truex Jr. and his crew chief, Chad Johnston, have shown the most derring-do in recent weeks as they desperately try to win races and gain a berth in the Chase. They did it again with a two-tire call on Tuesday at Atlanta, which fell short but gave Truex a shot, even if his ultimate 14th place result doesn't show it.

"He's done a great job [but] at the same time, it's a team effort. "


Truex comes to Richmond a real long shot -- 33 points behind Denny Hamlin. Truex has to win Saturday night and leapfrog Hamlin to make the Chase. He gives Johnston, who took over as his crew chief in mid-season, a lot of credit for making that possible and giving them a strong foundation for 2012.

"Chad has definitely brought a lot to the table for our team, and the communication between us has gone really well," Truex said. "I feel like he's the right person for me to get the most out of me and ask the right questions and make sure he's giving me what I'm looking for. The communication, the relationship has been great for our team.

"He's a great leader. The guys really respect him, and he really fits in our system and the way we do things, the way we set up our cars, the way we go through all the [simulation] work and all the stuff that we do. He's really on top of his game. He's done a great job [but] at the same time, it's a team effort. Everybody at [Michael Waltrip Racing] has been working hard and they all have a part in the runs that we've had here lately."

Gustafson gets props

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet, got a little icing on his winning performance at Atlanta on Tuesday when he was named this week's Wypall Wipers Crew Chief of the Race.

Gustafson, who secured his place as one of the best young crew chiefs in the Cup garage a couple seasons ago with Mark Martin, may get the ultimate prize this season.

Gustafson and his crew provided Gordon with a car good enough to hold off five-time defending Cup champion and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson over the last 15 laps at AMS -- the last 10 of them a stunning nose-to-tail, sideways off virtually every corner battle to the end -- one of the best finishes in the Cup Series in quite some time.

Gustafson proved his team was ready -- as Gordon has maintained for some time -- to contend.

"[Atlanta] was one of the race tracks we felt to be an elite team and contend for the title, we had to do well on this style of track," Gustafson said. "I'm pleased to do that."

But he wasn't as thrilled as Gordon was.

Win for Wallace could open doors

Mike Wallace knows how important winning races and championships are to a young race driver's career -- it's why he urged his daughter, Chrissy, to take that path if she wanted to continue in racing.

Chrissy and Mike Wallace.

"If I didn't win that championship, I wouldn't be here today, still racing."


This weekend, Chrissy Wallace gets a chance to put NASCAR owners in a position to put their money where their mouths are, after one significant owner told Mike Wallace to have his daughter win races and maybe a championship, and he'd give her a look for a possible seat.

All she has to do Saturday night is start a pair of Late Model feature races at Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway, an ASA Member Track Program facility, to achieve the first step in her goal of returning to a NASCAR series.

Twenty-one years after accomplishing such a feat, Mike Wallace knows what this weekend means for his 23-year-old daughter.

After winning a 1990 NASCAR Winston Racing Series track championship at Lebanon I-44 and the Mid-America Region Weekly Racing Series championship with it, the middle of three racing Wallace brothers from St. Louis embarked on a NASCAR national series career that's still rolling, after 712 career starts and significant victories in the Truck and Busch series.

"If I didn't win that championship, I wouldn't be here today, still racing," Wallace said of the accomplishment.

Only time will tell how significant that historical footnote is for Chrissy, who's made nine starts in the Truck and Nationwide series.

Her chief rival for the ASA national championship -- for which she has to win the track title first to get into the pool of contenders -- is veteran Late Model competitor Barry Beggarly, whose regular venue is Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C.

Coming into this weekend, Beggarly leads Chrissy Wallace in ASA's complicated percentage formula, .499 to .460.

While Wallace will know where she stands after this weekend, Beggarly will continue to race through the end of September, which could be a benefit or a detriment. According to an ASA spokesman, last year's national championship differential was .0028 percent.

After he races at Richmond, Mike Wallace plans to travel to Missouri to join wife Carla, Chrissy and their 15-year-old son Matt, who'll make his Late Model debut because "he wanted to race against his sister," Mike Wallace said, laughing at the apple not falling far from the tree -- in either case.

Don't mess with Martin

Mark Martin was called out on Regan Smith's Twitter page after Martin made contact with Smith on the backstretch on Tuesday at Atlanta Motor Speedway during the AdvoCare 500. Smith tweeted his opinion that the contact was intentional.

During a media event on Thursday at Richmond International Raceway, Martin was asked about the incident and about Smith's comments. Martin initially said the two drivers had an accident.

"I don't run into people and people aren't going to get away with running into me."


Pressed on the subject, Martin expanded. "With the way the racing has become today, the double-file restarts, how equal the cars are -- it's pushed everyone to really a whole different level of driving than it used to," Martin said. "So part of that requires less sportsmanship and more me, more selfishness and less sportsmanship.

"I'm falling right in there with the gang. I'll just say again, these restarts, they're getting pretty tough. I'm not going to be run into. I don't run into people and people aren't going to get away with running into me."

Since Smith had tweeted that he thought the restart contact was incidental and "just racing," it sounds like a further conversation between the two drivers may be needed this weekend at Richmond.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.