Saturday night started out with a down pour of rain and ended with a down pour of excitement.
As wild card teams went into Richmond International Raceway this week, they all knew their individual scenarios to make the Chase. The #2 wild card drivers were Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. Kasey Kahne already held the first wild card spot because of his two wins during the regular season. The remaining bubble drivers needed a win to get into the Chase, with the exception of Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, who were separated by just 12-points. The stage was set to play out on Saturday night.
After an hour-and-a-half rain delay, the green flag finally dropped at Richmond and Jeff Gordon immediately earned the wild card spot due to his starting position of second. That quickly turned around though, as Jeff Gordon fell deep in the pack to 22nd and a lap down. At the same time, Kyle Busch was making his way to the front when more rain came, putting the race under an hour-long rain delay.
Jeff Gordon, while being interviewed during the red flag, was upset over the way his car was handling and he was starting to lose hope in making the Chase. Again, that all changed when the race restarted. After making many aggressive changes, Jeff Gordon’s team placed the car in position to be headed back to front. Gordon finally put himself in lucky dog position, when he got his lap back, as another caution flew for light rain. The stage was now set for an exciting race for the Chase, and in this case, the second wild card spot.
Jeff Gordon started making his way up through the field as pit strategy started taking effect and different pit cycles were taking shape. Under a later caution, Gordon decided to pit and take four tires, while Kyle Busch stayed out, banking on rain to end this race to give him the second wild card spot.
That rain never came and Kyle Busch began losing position after position, while Gordon gained each position one-by-one. The points became closer and closer until Busch had to pit due to trouble with a lug nut on the right rear tire, causing him to go two laps down. At that point Gordon only needed to gain a few more spots on the track to earn the last wild card spot in the Chase.
With fresh tires and others saving fuel to make the finish, Gordon drove the No. 24 car up to second place as he flew past the rest of the field. With less than five laps to go, Gordon made his way into the second position, locking the second wild card spot as Kyle Busch finished sixteenth. Gordon officially beat Kyle Busch by a mere three-points.
With Jeff Gordon earning the second wild card berth, he also locked all four Hendrick Motorsports cars into the Chase. This is the first time all Hendrick Motorsports cars have made the Chase.
The Chase field is now officially set for all top-12 contenders to run for the Championship.
As the Chase field heads to Chicagoland this weekend for the first race in the Chase, Denny Hamlin holds the number one seed by three points over Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart. Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer hold the fifth and sixth seeds six points behind Denny Hamlin. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth hold the seventh and eighth spots in the Chase nine points behind the number one seed. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon hold the remaining spots 12 points behind Denny Hamlin. Fans can see a full run down of the current Chase point standings at NASCAR.com.
Now that the Chase field is set, it is finally that time of year to pick your favorite to win the 2012 Sprint Cup title.
My pick to win his sixth championship is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has been one of the most consistent drivers throughout the year and has won three races. He also has the best combined average finishing position in the Chase among drivers. Along with Jeff Gordon, Johnson has the most combined wins at tracks in the Chase.
Denny Hamlin will also be one to keep an eye on, as he has two wins in the past three weeks and has a lot of momentum on his side.
An “underdog” that could take the championship is Brad Keselowski. He has proven to be a force to be reckoned with this year, having three wins and running consistently in the top ten every week.
But my pick to take it all, remains Jimmie Johnson.
Who is your pick to take the 2012 Sprint Cup championship? Will it be Jimmie Johnson, someone else, or will someone unexpected take the Championship for 2012?
The Chase field is in place and there is now only ten weeks to determine the next Sprint Cup champion. Fans are set to see some great racing and exciting story lines in the coming weeks. Let’s all sit back and enjoy the racing everyone is about to see!