Does it get any better than the second Richmond race? Probably not
The Daytona 500, the season-ender at Homestead-Miami, name any race you want. The Chase cutoff contest at Richmond has become the best race of the year, writes Ed Hinton.
- This is the moment, the peak, the pinnacle;After this, all is ebb.-- William Faulkner, reporting for Sports Illustrated from the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby.RICHMOND, Va. -- After this race, when you think about it, all is ebb.This has become the crucible and the crescendo of the NASCAR season -- this one little race with a silly-sounding name, Chevy Rock & Roll 400."The reality of it is that this is one of 26," Jeff Burton said, meaning NASCAR's regular season before the 10-race Chase. "But it's hard to look at it that way, because all those other races are done."So this one race means everything."You feel a sense of urgency here like nowhere else in NASCAR nowadays. Not at the Daytona 500 itself. Not at the season finale at Homestead-Miami.This is about who makes the Chase and who doesn't. It is clearer cut, more crucial than any race in the Chase itself, where a driver can crash out and you say that's his "Mulligan," and maybe he can recover before these long (too long?) playoffs are over.Somebody clearly loses here. Somebody's done, finished, out of the championship hunt.Seven drivers will race for the final five of the 12 playoff berths, when the rain lets up and they finally run this thing, hopefully Sunday afternoon (ESPN and ESPN360.com, 1 p.m. ET). Only four are on the edge or at the threshold for the final two spots, but Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, former champions all, are not locks.
Kyle Busch (pictured), Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton already have spots reserved in the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup. But spots 6 through 12 won't be decided until this weekend's race at Richmond. Here are how the contenders stack up:• Greg Biffle: Needs to start the race. • Kevin Harvick: Needs to start the race. • Tony Stewart: Finish 36th, finish 37th and lead at least one lap, or finish 40th and lead the most laps. • Matt Kenseth: Finish 26th, finish 28th and lead at least one lap, or finish 30th and lead the most laps. • Jeff Gordon: Finish 24th, finish 25th and lead at least one lap, or finish 28th and lead the most laps. • Denny Hamlin: Finish 21st, finish 22nd and lead at least one lap, or finish 25th and lead the most laps. • Clint Bowyer: Win, or finish third and lead the most laps. • David Ragan: Win and lead the most laps. *Kasey Kahne is the only other driver mathematically eligible if Ragan and Kahne start the race.
-- Jimmie Johnson
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