Atlanta sets up crazy regular-season finale at Richmond

Updated: September 14, 2009, 10:34 AM ET

(AP Photo/Glenn Smith)

Kevin Harvick dominated Saturday night's Nationwide Series race, and although he didn't win Sunday night (he finished second), it would be hard to find a driver who had a better overall weekend.

Raise your hand if you thought Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle were toast early in Sunday night's Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Wow! That many.

Can't say I blame you. I thought the same thing. Both Roush Fenway Racing drivers looked completely lost and appeared ready to fall out of the top 12 who will race for the championship when the field is set following this weekend's race at Richmond International Raceway.

Kenseth fell as far back as 31st and a lap down with damage to his car after an early meeting with the wall. Biffle also was a lap down before getting the "lucky dog" on the sixth of nine cautions.

At one point, both drivers were out of the top 12 in points.

But when midnight fell on the first Labor Day weekend race at AMS, Biffle was 10th and Kenseth 12th at the finish, 11th and 12th in points, respectively. Not great, but when you consider where they were, pretty impressive.

"I'm glad we picked the right way to go on this thing, because we were in big trouble," Biffle said.

Ditto for Kenseth. And neither driver is out of the woods. Kenseth, who hasn't missed the Chase since it was implemented in 2004, is only 20 points ahead of 13th-place Brian Vickers heading to RIR. Biffle is only 68 points ahead of Vickers.

But they aren't the only drivers who will have sleepless nights this week. Mark Martin, tied with Kyle Busch for the most wins this season with four, is only 69 points ahead of Vickers.

Ryan Newman is only 81 clear, and Juan Pablo Montoya, despite a solid third-place run Sunday, is only 88 up.

Not even positions five through seven are guaranteed a spot. Carl Edwards is fifth but only 105 clear of 13th. Kasey Kahne, despite Sunday's win, is safe by only 96 points. Kurt Busch is one point worse off than Kahne.

And then there is the younger Busch, who is 37 points on the outside looking in after finishing 13th at Atlanta.

This shapes up to be one of the most dramatic climaxes in Chase regular-season history.

Here's a snapshot of what drivers must do at RIR to clinch spots:

• No. 5 Carl Edwards: He's in if he finishes 24th or better, regardless of what anybody around him does. He also can clinch by finishing 25th and leading one lap or 27th and leading the most laps.

• No. 6 Kasey Kahne: He needs to finish at least 21st to erase any doubt.

• No. 7 Kurt Busch: Twentieth or better gets him in.

• No. 8 Juan Pablo Montoya: He needs to equal Kyle Busch's car number to be locked in. That's an 18, in case you don't follow the sport closely.

• No. 9 Ryan Newman: Sixteenth or better is his magic number.

• No. 10 Mark Martin: By finishing at least 12th, he will jump to first when the points are reshuffled, unless Kyle Busch gets in, which would tie him, barring a Busch win. Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson also would tie Martin with another win.

• No. 11 Greg Biffle: It's getting tighter and tighter down here. He needs at least an 11th.

• No. 12 Matt Kenseth: Speaking of tight, he has to finish second and lead at least one lap to eliminate any doubt. Or win.

And the chasers:

• No. 13 Brian Vickers: First, he has to look over his shoulder. He's only 17 points clear of Kyle Busch. Then, he has to make up 21 points on Kenseth.

• No. 14 Kyle Busch: Thirty-seven points back isn't insurmountable when you consider Richmond is one of his best tracks. His team will be looking for another win on the three-quarter-mile surface and hope the others finish far enough behind to sneak him in. If that happens, win No. 5 will jump him all the way to the top of the point standings, where he was when the Chase started last year.

"We can't control what everybody else does; we can only control what we do," Busch's crew chief, Steve Addington, said.

How many people believe he will do it? Raise your hands.

Nationwide Series: Harvick gets big win on big weekend

Kevin Harvick had arguably the best weekend of any driver. He dominated and won the Nationwide Series race Saturday night, and finished second in the Cup race with a car that was dominant on long runs. And his Truck Series driver, Ron Hornaday Jr. (see below), had another top-5.

Since Harvick didn't get much love in the Cup rundown portion of this program because he's not a Chase contender, let's give him his props here. He deserves some.

Harvick has spent much of the past few months in the rumor mill, in part because his Richard Childress Racing team has had a horrible season and in part because of reports he wanted out of the final year of his deal to move to another team.

Harvick and Childress apparently settled their differences and agreed to work together at least through 2010 on the Cup side. Sunday night's performance was a good sign the program is headed in the right direction.

"You know, any momentum … in a good direction is a positive thing for us," Harvick said. "It lets us know that we do remember how to race."

No doubt about that. Harvick's Nationwide and Truck Series teams have proved that all season. Now maybe he's getting things together on the Cup side.

Camping World Truck Series: Hornaday extends points lead; Skinner wins

Ron Hornaday Jr. didn't win again, but his fourth-place finish helped extend his lead to 225 points over fellow Chevrolet driver Matt Crafton with eight races remaining.

Not a bad effort, especially considering Hornaday started 15th Saturday.

"Actually, we really struggled the last two days, but this is why the KHI [Kevin Harvick Inc.] team is championship caliber," Hornaday said.

Mike Skinner won for Randy Moss Motorsports, perhaps an omen for the owner, who is about to begin the NFL season.

"Randy Moss, you better call me!" Skinner said after his second win of the season. "It was just awesome."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.


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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Kasey Kahne

Kahne

  • Kasey Kahne won the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He climbed from 11th to sixth in the points standings. He now is 96 points ahead of 13th-place Brian Vickers. One-hundred five points separate fifth from 13th; 122 points separate fifth from 14th. Any driver with a 196-point lead or more over 13th-place Vickers is mathematically locked into the 2009 Chase. Tony Stewart locked at Michigan. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon locked at Bristol. Denny Hamlin locked in at Atlanta by finishing sixth in the race, leaving eight positions still to be determined at Richmond.
  • No matter what anyone else does, the following drivers are in the Chase if:
    Fifth: Carl Edwards finishes 24th or better, or 25th and leads a lap.
    Sixth: Kahne finishes 21st or better, or 23rd or better and leads a lap.
    Seventh: Kurt Busch finishes 20th or better, or 22nd and leads a lap.
    Eighth: Juan Pablo Montoya finishes 18th or better, or 20th and leads a lap.
    Ninth: Ryan Newman finishes 16th or better, or 17th and leads a lap.
    10th: Mark Martin finishes 12th or better, or 14th and leads a lap.
    11th: Greg Biffle finishes 11th or better, or 13th and leads a lap.
    12th: Matt Kenseth wins or finishes second and leads a lap, or third and leads the most laps.
  • 122 points separate 10 drivers from fifth (Edwards) to 14th (Kyle Busch).
  • Any driver more than 196 points behind 12th-place Kenseth has been eliminated from the 2009 Chase (17th on back).
  • 16th-place Clint Bowyer will be eliminated if Kenseth starts at Richmond.
  • Kahne became the sixth repeat race winner in 25 races this season, joining Kyle Busch and Martin with four each, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart with three, and Kenseth with two. Kahne became the fifth different race winner in the past five races at Atlanta. He started second. Eight of his 11 series victories have come from a front-row start.
  • Kahne's last win came at Infineon, nine races ago. He scored his second series win in 12 races at Atlanta. He also won at Atlanta in the spring of 2006. Kahne scored his 11th series victory in his 205th career start.
  • Kahne scored his second win for Richard Petty Motorsports. His other nine wins came with Evernham Motorsports.
  • The past 12 races at Atlanta have been won from an 11th or better starting position.
  • Dodge swept both races at Atlanta in 2009. Kurt Busch won the spring race.
  • This marked the eighth win by Dodge in 101 races at Atlanta.
  • Chevrolet has scored 12 wins in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has eight, while Dodge has three and Ford has two.
  • Harvick (finished second) posted his fourth top-10 finish of the season.
  • Montoya (third) scored his 12th top-10 in 2009. He climbed from ninth to eighth in the points, now 88 points ahead of 13th-place Vickers.
  • Hamlin (sixth) has scored five straight top-10 finishes in a streak that began at second Pocono.
  • Vickers (seventh) extended an eight-race streak of top-15 finishes that began at Daytona in July. He is just 20 points behind 12th-place Kenseth.
  • Gordon (eighth) is the only driver to score top-10 finishes in the past five races at Atlanta. He extended a nine-race streak of top-15 finishes at Atlanta.
  • Stewart (11th) extended a 17-race streak of running at the finish at Atlanta that began in November 2001.
  • Kenseth (12th) extend a nine-race streak of top-15 finishes at Atlanta.
  • Joey Logano (22nd) was the highest finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • Jeff Burton (34th) has finished 16th or worse in the past 11 races, since Michigan in June.
  • Johnson (36th) has led at least one lap in 21 of the 25 races in 2009, the most by any driver.
  • Kahne became the 12th different race winner in the 16 superspeedway races (restrictor-plate races excluded).
  • Kyle Busch (13th) was 34 points behind 12th-place Kenseth entering the race. He now is 37 points behind.
  • Johnson is the only driver who has led at least one lap in all 16 superspeedway races in 2009.
  • Gordon is the only driver to score 13 top-10 finishes in the 16 superspeedway races in 2009, the most by any driver.
  • Pole winner Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps (68) and finished 26th.
  • Stewart (11th) and Elliott Sadler (21st) have each been running at the finish in the past 48 races, the longest current streak.
  • The top 10 consisted of five Chevrolets, three Toyotas, one Ford and one Dodge.

Nationwide Series

Kevin

Harvick

  • Kevin Harvick won the Nationwide Series Degree V12 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He scored his first series victory in eight races at AMS. Harvick became the 14th different race winner in 18 series races at Atlanta. He scored his 34th career series victory in 231 career races, ranking second all time behind Mark Martin, who has scored 48 series wins in 231 races. It was Harvick's second victory in 2009. He also won at first Bristol.
  • Harvick led six times for 131 laps, including the final two. He led the most laps in the race. He had led just five laps in his previous seven races at Atlanta. Harvick became the seventh series race winner with multiple wins in 2009.
  • Kyle Busch leads all series drivers with six victories in 2009. Six other drivers have scored multiple wins in 2009: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards each have three, and David Ragan, Greg Biffle and Harvick have two. Five other drivers have scored one each.
  • This was the fifth Kevin Harvick Inc. victory and second in 2009.
  • Only five cars finished on the lead lap. This was the fewest cars on the lead lap since there were five at Lowe's in October 2006.
  • This marked the 11th victory for Chevrolet at Atlanta. Ford has seven. They remain the only manufacturers to win series races at Atlanta.
  • Kyle Busch (finished second) scored his ninth second-place finish in 2009. Busch has scored 15 finishes of first or second in 2009. He has led in 24 of the 26 races in 2009. Busch has a 221-point lead over second-place Edwards.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (third) posted his best series finish in seven races this season.
  • Brad Keselowski (fourth) scored his eighth straight top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Gateway. Keselowski has been running at the finish in his past 58 series races, the longest current streak. His last DNF came because of an accident at Las Vegas in March 2008, when he finished 23rd.
  • Jeff Burton (fifth) scored his fourth straight top-5 finish at Atlanta.
  • Jason Leffler (20th) has finished outside the top-15 in just four of the 26 races this season.
  • Michael Annett (14th) was the highest finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • The top 10 consisted of five Chevrolets, three Fords and two Toyotas.

Camping World Truck Series

Mike

Skinner

  • Mike Skinner won the inaugural running of the Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 at Iowa Speedway. He won his 27th series race in his 196th start. Skinner now has won on 20 tracks in the series in 15 different states. He won his second race of 2009; his last win came at Kansas in April. Skinner posted his ninth win in the series from the pole, and he crossed the 6,000 career laps led mark in the race, becoming only the third driver in series history to do so.
  • Skinner led 180 of the 200 laps, the most of all drivers, and he scored his seventh win in the inaugural race at a track in the series. The victory was his 17th in a series race on a short track.
  • Randy Moss Motorsports posted its second series victory; both have been with Mike Skinner.
  • Aric Almirola (finished second) posted his career-best finish in his 41st start.
  • Colin Braun (third) posted his sixth top-5 finish of 2009.
  • Ron Hornaday Jr. (fourth) posted his 11th top-5 finish and 14th top-10 finish of 2009; he extended his point lead to 225 over Matt Crafton.
  • Johnny Sauter (fifth) posted his third top-5 finish of the season and second consecutive. He was the best finishing of the six rookie of the year contenders.
  • Austin Dillon finished 12th in his series debut after spinning on Lap 73 while battling for the eighth position.
  • Jamie Dick finished 22nd in his series debut.
  • Toyota posted its ninth series win of 2009, the most of all makes.
  • The top 10 consisted of six Toyotas, one Ford and three Chevrolets.
  • Brett Thompson (31st) was the best finishing Dodge.

-- Racing Resources