Clint Bowyer in Richmond - image courtesy of Michael Waltrip RacingEnlarge Photo
Saturday night’s short-track slugfest in Richmond
was the final regular season race on the NASCAR calendar, and as expected it delivered its fair share of drama for those patient enough to wait out a rain-delayed start of nearly two hours and a rain-based red flag that lasted nearly another hour.
The race started under yellow as the track was still drying, with pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. and second place qualifier Jeff Gordon leading the pack behind the pace car for the first six laps. When the green flag finally dropped, the biggest question remaining was who would grab the two remaining Chase for the Championship wild card spots.
Gordon seemed like a sure bet, starting from second spot, but Kyle Busch
and Ryan Newman both could have qualified for the final wild card spot at various times during the evening.
When the race was temporarily red-flagged for rain around the mid-point, Busch looked to have the final wild card spot locked, while Gordon found himself a lap down, seemingly out of contention.
Fate, however, wasn’t on Kyle Busch’s side. When another caution was declared due to more rain. Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers, kept his driver on the track, gambling that the race would be called for rain and giving the team a spot in the championship hunt.
It wasn’t, and pits stops soon put Busch out of the running. Gordon, meanwhile, had been lucky-dogged back onto the lead lap. Fighting his way through traffic, the Hendrick Motorsport driver clawed his way back to an improbable second place late in the race.
When the checkered flag waved in the early hours of Sunday morning, Clint Bowyer
took the victory, followed by Gordon, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.
Heading into the Chase for the Championship, Denny Hamlin is the top seed with 2012 points, followed by Jimmie Johnson (2009), Tony Stewart (2009), Brad Keselowski (2009), Greg Biffle (2006), Clint Bowyer (2006), Dale Earnhardt,Jr. (2003), Matt Kenseth (2003) Kevin Harvick (2000), Martin Truex Jr. (2000) Kasey Kahne (2000) and Jeff Gordon (2000).
NASCAR’s post season begins next week with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.