A funny thing happened on the way to Richmond. Ryan Newman finished eighth at Darlington, got to within seven points of Jamie McMurray in the battle for the final Chase place, and then it hit the fan. Actually, it was not very amusing at all as his car failed post-race inspection, and that came with a 15 point penalty. Newman has to make up a 22 point deficit on McMurray, hope nobody below him in the standings wins this weekend, or just win the thing himself to make it. With a contract coming due and the owner’s other grandson ready to move up, this is the time for the Rocket to light the fuse.
Kyle Larson‘s third place finish at Darlington was nice, but he also got tagged 15 points for failing the post-race checkup. However, he loses not a step in the standings and his win leaves him somewhat immune. As for the cash donations, Newman’s crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $25,000, while Chad Johnston, Larson’s bench boss, was fined $22,500. Would it not be lovely if you could fine your mechanic’s ass if he failed to fix your car the first time? Your doctor? How about politicians? We may be on to something here.
There is one other scenario we have not mentioned. If Chris Buescher has a bad day and falls out of the Top 30, it is “hello Newman,” welcome to the Chase.
Eleven races to go, and with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the shelf until the Daytona 500, 23-year-old Alex Bowman will have a dream ride for eight of the remaining contests this season. It will be a good test for the driver who spent the past two seasons behind the wheel for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin. Neither outfit has yet to win a race, boast just two Top Fives and six Top Tens in a combined 781 attempts. Bowman will end the season driving the good stuff. Jeff Gordon, meanwhile, finally retires again, after he completes Richmond, Dover, and Martinsville. Sixteen of his 93 career victories came at those venues, including nine coming at the paper-clip.
What driver has the most identifiable car in NASCAR, even to the non-fan? Paul Menard. His name is all over it.
Danny Gallivan, Vin Scully, Ken Squier. If you want to become a legendary hockey, baseball, or racing announcer, they are the prototypes to build upon After just a couple of minutes to get into the swing of things at Darlington, the 81-year-old Squier allowed us to once again hear how it should be done. These gentlemen were poets who were able to describe, inform, entertain, and allow us to witness the action simply through the sound of their voice. To actually see it on television was a bonus, almost an unnecessary one. Squier ended his term providing the lap-by-lap commentary in 1997, though we have been blessed by special appearances, as we were last Sunday. Gallivan retired in 1984 after 32 years calling the action for the Montreal Canadiens, passing away in 1993. The 88-year old Scully is presently bringing his 67-year career behind the Dodger microphone to a close. They remain incomparable and irreplaceable.
Richmond has been part of the NASCAR scene since 1950, and Saturday the race will feature eight present and former Cup champions. Twenty-six of those 40 drivers have combined for 530 Cup victories, and while 12 have locked in their invite to the Chase, another 20 entered have a mathematical shot at one of the four remaining positions.
That includes all of our Hot 20 heading into Richmond.
1. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 4 WINS (797 Pts)
Loose wheel, loose wheel, he thought he had Harvick’s crew pitting him for real.
2. KYLE BUSCH – 4 WINS (727 Pts)
Six drivers under the age of 25 have driven for him in the truck series this season.
3. KEVIN HARVICK – 2 WINS (840 Pts)
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, and let them try to pit my car.
4. CARL EDWARDS – 2 WINS (746 Pts)
First last lap pass for the win at Richmond in the spring, why not the fall?
5. DENNY HAMLIN – 2 WINS (729 Pts)
If he ran NASCAR, would shorten the season and the World 600. Good thing he doesn’t.
6. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 2 WINS (696 Pts)
Interested in just winning the Memorial and Labor Day weekend classics this season.
7. MATT KENSETH – 2 WINS (669 Pts)
Without Matt, Jim might have never worked at Dunder Mifflin or met Pam or Michael Scott.
8. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2 WINS (656 Pts)
Jimmie won twice, had Top 10s in five of the seven events to open the season. It’s been a while.
9. JOEY LOGANO – 1 WIN (752 Pts)
With Junior out, does this give Joey a shot at being NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver?
10. KURT BUSCH – 1 WIN (728 Pts)
Felt kind of flat at Darlington. Menard’s flat, to be specific.
11. KYLE LARSON – 1 WIN (606 Pts)
Finally, he has two Top Fives in a row.
12. TONY STEWART – 1 WIN (426 Pts)
What happened to Brian Scott at Darlington? Why, he wrecked, of course.
13. CHRIS BUESCHER – 1 WIN (358 Pts)
Staying within 10 of Ragan next week would be good, keeping him in the rearview, even better.
14. CHASE ELLIOTT – 659 POINTS
Finish 17th or better and he is off to the ball.
15. AUSTIN DILLON – 651 POINTS
Menard has a sponsor, Dillon has a grandfather, and Newman needs the Chase.
16. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 642 POINTS
Could have been 30 points up if not for that late Darlington penalty.
17. RYAN NEWMAN – 620 POINTS
Penalty cripples his Chase bid, while the other Dillon has designs on his ride.
18. KASEY KAHNE – 598 POINTS
At least Junior has an excuse for not making the Chase.
19. RYAN BLANEY – 573 POINTS
No gloves, no problem, but less money in your pocket.
20. A.J. ALLMENDINGER – 562 POINTS
Mr. Tickles? Maybe it was girlfriend Tara who named the cat.