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A sweet night at Richmond

September 10, 2012, Andrew Shain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Three Coca-Cola drivers make the Chase, while four finish in the top 10

The Coca-Cola Racing Family put four drivers in the top 10 at Richmond, and, more importantly, put three in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart will vie for the season championship. Ryan Newman and Joey Logano came close but could not catch up to the Chase as the regular season ended.

(Drivers listed in order of season points standings)

Denny Hamlin

Richmond results: 18th

Chase standings: Seeded first. Twelve bonus points for four wins

The skinny: Hamlin appeared in position to win his third race in a row. He led more than 200 laps and averaged running in third place. Hamlin had a strong enough car to get back to the front after falling back to 15th following to a pit stop, but he was running second when he needed to fuel in the waning laps and finished 18th. It was his worst result at Richmond in four years and second-worst career finish at the track. Still, he has a three-point head start on the field in the Chase.

What he said: "Obviously, our stuff is really good right now. What do you got to lose? We've never won a championship. We're going out there trying to win our first. I'm going to race week-to-week, not think about a championship until I get to Homestead."

Tony Stewart

Richmond result: Fourth

Chase standings: Seeded third. Nine bonus points for three wins

The skinny: The defending series champion heads into the Chase with his first top-10 finish in a month. He started 28th but reached the top 10 within 150 laps. Stewart led with 100 laps to go and remained in the top five the rest of the way, earning his 19th top-10 in 28 career races at Richmond. He won the title last year with a tiebreaker after netting five wins in the Chase.

What he said: "To start from 28th and have to work our way up, it makes for a long night. That is what you have to do to win a championship. After last year, you can't count anybody out. All 12 guys have a good shot right now. ... These nine points -- it was a big deal for us [Saturday] to make sure we stayed in the top-10 and make sure we got those bonus points and didn't lose them."

Greg Biffle

Richmond result: Ninth

Chase standings: Seeded fifth. Six bonus points for two wins

The skinny: Biffle started 23rd and reached the top 10 within 60 laps, but worn tires pushed him outside the top 15. Pit strategy got him back into the top 10, but he stayed out waiting for another caution and slid back in the pack. He was able to finish ninth -- his best Richmond finish in six years.

What he said: "We actually ran really well here [Saturday]. We haven't been that great in the past. To finish ninth -- and we really stayed out way too long on that one run trying to catch a caution so we were just experimenting and gambling. We would have been in the top five. We are excited about that. We learned a bit. I think and it should help us at Loudon."

Ryan Newman

Richmond result: Eighth

Season standings: 16th

The skinny: Newman needed to win to reach the Chase and faced some challenges at the track where he had 16 finishes of 15th or better in 21 starts. A poor-handling car cost him a lap that he later regained with the Lucky Dog. Then, Newman lost eight spots after receiving a pit-road penalty when a tire rolled away from a crewman. He improved his track position with pit stops to lead for 13 laps with less than 100 laps to go. But the car's handling was not good enough to hold off faster cars at the end.

What he said: "It's just disappointing. I really don't know what to say. We really gave it all we had out there. ... Unfortunately, it just wasn't our year to make the Chase. Now we have to go out there and do what we have to do to be the best of the rest these next 10 races."

Joey Logano

Richmond result: 30th

Season standings: 18th

The skinny: Like Newman, Logano needed to win to make the Chase. He qualified eighth, but his car was tight from the start of the race, and he fell a lap down quickly. Adjustments during pit stops made little difference. Logano finished four laps down.

What he said: "What a frustrating evening for our team. There was just nothing that went right. From the moment the race was delayed by rain, we should have just known that things were going to go downhill. ... I don't know what was wrong with the car, but it was just horrible."

Jeff Burton

Richmond result: Sixth

Season standings: 19th

The skinny: Burton came back from a lap down for his best finish in eight races. After battling a tight car, he won the Lucky Dog to get back on the lead lap a little more than halfway through the race. With adjustments that further strengthened his car, Burton passed five competitors in the final 40 laps.

What he said: "I've been saying week after week how strong this team is getting, and we proved that [Saturday] with a hard-fought top-10 finish. I am happy and proud of everyone."

Jamie McMurray

Richmond result: 22nd

Season standings: 20th

The skinny: McMurray struggled with an ill-handling car much of the night for his poorest finish at Richmond in three years.

What he said: "We started out pretty good. We chased the handling ... after the competition caution. Following the red flag, I felt that we got the car better, we just didn't have time to make up the ground we lost."

Bobby Labonte

Richmond result: 25th

Season standings: 24th

The skinny: Labonte and his crew tried to catch up with changing track conditions to get the car handling better, but he couldn't get inside the top 20 with any consistency.

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