If it’s drama you want, then Saturday night’s Sprint Cup regular-season finale at Richmond should provide plenty. Only the top four spots heading into the race are locked into the Chase for the championship.
Even Carl Edwards, once a Chase lock, has to be careful. He’s 105 points ahead of 13th-place Brian Vickers, but one small mistake on the cramped Richmond track and his title hopes could go away quickly. Edwards has to finish 24th or better, or 25th with a lap led, to clinch a spot. The guess here is that won’t be a problem, even though he has just three top-10 finishes (and zero top-fives) in 10 starts at Richmond.
Here’s a quick rundown of the other Chase contenders:
* Kasey Kahne (sixth, 96 ahead of 13th place). Last week’s big winner is suddenly in a great spot. He can clinch with a 21st-place finish, or 23rd with a lap led at a track where he has a win, two top-fives and five top-10s in 11 starts.
* Kurt Busch (seventh, 95 ahead of 13th place). He needs a 20th or better finish, or 22nd with a lap led. His Richmond record, like Kahne’s, is solid — with a win, two top-fives and five top-10s in 17 career starts.
* Juan Pablo Montoya (eighth, 88 ahead of 13th place). He needs an 18th-place finish, or 20th with a lap led. Montoya’s known as a strong short-track racer, but he’s spotty at Richmond, where he has only one top-10 finish in five starts.
* Ryan Newman (ninth, 81 ahead of 13th place). Going by track record, the Rocket should be OK. He has a win, five top-fives and nine top-10s in 15 career starts and needs only to finish 16th or better (17th with a lap led) to clinch his spot.
* Mark Martin (10th, 69 ahead of 13th place). Here’s where it gets really tight. He needs to finish 12th or better, or 14th with a lap led. The good news for the veteran is that more than half his 47 starts (26) at Richmond have resulted in top-10 finishes. He also has a win and 16 top-fives.
* Greg Biffle (11th, 68 ahead of 13th place). He needs to finish 11th or better, or 13th with a lap led, at a track where he’s spotty at best. Biffle has two top-fives and five top-10s in 14 career starts there.
* Matt Kenseth (12th, 20 ahead of 13 place). When he’s good at Richmond, he’s very good, with a win and three top-fives in 19 starts. He’ll need it because he can clinch by finishing second and leading a lap.
* Brian Vickers (13th, 20 out of 12th place). He basically will be racing Kenseth and Kyle Busch head up. He has to finish roughly five spots ahead of Kenseth to get in. Unfortunately for the Toyota driver, he has just one top-10 finish in 10 starts at Richmond.
* Kyle Busch (14th, 37 points out of 12th place). He has a tall order, but there aren’t many tracks he would rather have for such a task. He will need to beat Kenseth by about eight positions and Vickers by four at a track where he has a win, seven top-fives and seven top-10s in just nine career starts.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...