Heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, all eyes were on which five drivers would lock up the last five spots in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Although 12 different drivers had won at least one race during the first 25 races of the regular season, only Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chris Buescher, who won the second Pocono race of the year, was at risk for falling out of the top 30 in points. If he left Richmond in 31st position or worse, he would be the only driver this year with a win in the first 25 races left out of the Chase.
Buescher finished the race 24th and the last driver on the lead lap — good enough to lock him into NASCAR’s 10-race postseason. Chase Elliott finished 19th, which was good enough to seed him 13th, while Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray, who finished 13th and seventh, respectively, seized the final two spots.
Heading into Sunday afternoon’s first race in the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway, the seedings looks like this: 1. Kyle Busch (four wins — 2,012 points); 2. Brad Keselowski (four wins — 2,012 points), 3. Denny Hamlin (three wins — 2,009 points); 4. Kevin Harvick (two wins — 2,006 points); 5. Carl Edwards (two wins — 2,006 points); 6. Martin Truex Jr. (two wins — 2,006 points); 7. Matt Kenseth (two wins — 2,006 points); 8. Jimmie Johnson (two wins — 2,006 points); 9. Joey Logano (one win — 2,003 points); 10. Kyle Larson (one win — 2,003 points); 11. Tony Stewart (one win — 2,003 points); 12. Kurt Busch (one win — 2,003 points); 13. Chris Buescher (one win — 2,003 points); 14. Chase Elliott (zero wins — 2,000 points); 15. Austin Dillon (zero wins — 2,000 points); 16. Jamie McMurray (zero wins — 2,000 points).
The “One Last Race to Make the Chase” was dominated by two Toyota drivers, Hamlin and Truex. The latter led a race-high 193 laps (of 407) before finishing third. Hamlin won the race after leading 189 laps, including the final 86 trips around the short track. He finished 0.609 seconds ahead of runner-up Larson.
The story of the race, however, wasn’t so much about how dominant Hamlin and Truex were, but instead how wild the race was. There were 16 caution flags in the event, 15 of them for accidents. The second to last caution (on Lap 364) included eight cars and brought out the red flag for more than 20 minutes.
The win was Hamlin’s 29th career win in the series and moved into sole possession of the 25th position on the all-time series wins list.
The top-10 finishers were Hamlin, Larson, Truex, Keselowski, Harvick, Kahne, McMurray, Ku. Busch, Ky. Busch and Logano.
How did the rankings for the Chase change their rankings in Lionel Racing’s Power 10? Harvick who ranked first in points before the re-seeding and in the Power 10 is now fourth. Does this effect his position in our rankings? Are there any drivers not in the Chase that made our Power 10? After another strong performance, did Larson climb even further in the rankings?
Find out the answers to all these questions and more in this week’s edition of Lionel Racing’s Power 10.
(Note: Only the 10 drivers receiving the highest average rankings are shown. The number of spots they’ve moved since the previous Power 10 are shown in the parentheses.)
1. Kevin Harvick (–): If the Chase seeded drivers based up points rather than wins, Kevin would have had the top spot on lock down for most of the season.
2. Brad Keselowski (+1): With four wins on the season, he is one of two drivers with 2,012 points going into the Chase.
3. Kyle Busch (+2): He’s Kyle Busch and his past successes give him the benefit of the doubt. But after another top 10, he doesn’t need the benefit of the doubt.
4. Martin Truex Jr. (-2): One week after winning at Darlington, Martin follows it up with a third-place finish. Consistency will be important over the next 10 weeks.
5. Denny Hamlin (–): Denny’s third win of the season places him third in the Chase grid heading into Chicagoland. He’s peaking at the right time.
6. Kyle Larson (-2): In the last three races, Kyle has a win, a third-place finish and now a runner-up performance. Not a bad way to lead into his first Chase.
7. Kurt Busch (+3): As one of seven drivers to lead at one last lap at Richmond, Kurt’s eighth-place finish propels him three spots in the Power 10.
8. Joey Logano (-1): With a 10th-place finish at Richmond, Joey ends the regular season with 18 top 10s, second-most among drivers.
9. Carl Edwards (–): After finishing 19th and 32nd in the final two races of the regular season, Carl will be looking to perform better in the Chase.
10. Jimmie Johnson (NR): The Chase is where Jimmie shines and this season should be no different.