If the race at Richmond International Raceway is a preview of what is to come for the Chase, it will be the wildest battle yet. There was a record-tying 15 cautions that took up 85 laps of the race. Kevin Harvick took home the victory, but that is the last thing fans were talking about after the race.
Junior Makes the Chase
Dale Earnhardt Jr was probably the most talked-about driver of the night. He came to Richmond knowing he could make the chase and he knew he had the car to do it. However, his chase hopes started to fade just eight laps into the race.
Clint Bowyer spun in Turn 4, trying to get under David Reutimann at the front of the pack. As the cars checked up, Earnhardt got into the back of Matt Kenseth. It’s hard to tell, but Earnhardt says he was pushed into Kenseth by Casey Mears, who may have been pushed into him by Marcos Ambrose. As Kenseth started to spin, Earnhardt went outside and made contact with Denny Hamlin, sending Hamlin into the wall. Earnhardt then turned to drive under the stopped car of Bowyer, but Bowyer rolled down the track and the two made contact.
This resulted in significant damage to the grill of the No. 88 Chevy, forcing him to pit multiple times under caution. The team fixed the car as best they could and kept Junior on the lead lap. But, because of the damage, Earnhardt had his hands full with an ill-handling car. Still, he was on a mission to make the Chase.
On lap 37, he made contact with wild card hopeful Marcos Ambrose, spinning Ambrose around. That really just looked like two guys going for the same real estate, but Earnhardt may not have lifted for Ambrose because he may have blamed Ambrose for the big wreck that put his Chase hopes in jeopardy.
Then, on lap 152, Travis Kvapil slammed the No. 88’s bumper. Junior showed Kvapil how he felt about it. He retaliated the following lap, sending Kvapil spinning in Turn 2 to bring out the caution. Earnhardt would have been the Lucky Dog that caution, but wasn’t eligible since he contributed to bringing out the caution. After the race, according to reporters, Earnhardt Jr apologized to Denny Hamlin. But, as far as Kvapil, Earnhardt said he got what he deserved.
Earnhardt hovered around 10th place in the Sprint Cup Series standings for most of the race. At one point, he was only two points ahead of Brad Keselowski and from dropping out of the Chase.
To make the Chase, all Earnhardt Jr had to do was finish the race in 20th position or better. After a hard fought battle, he finished 16th and secured his spot for the Chase. “We just kept working it and trying to fix the car,” said Earnhardt after climbing out of his beaten car. “But we worked on it and worked on it…I’m proud to be in the Chase. I feel like I’m a good enough driver to be in the Chase—my team is good enough to be there.”
He will enter the race at Chicagoland Speedway in 10th position, 12 points behind leader Kyle Busch.
With the second wild card for the Chase possibly up for grabs, Marcos Ambrose needed a Top 15 finish to put himself in the running. On Lap 51, Ambrose and Red Bull Racing drivers Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne were racing three-wide for position. Quickly running out of room, Ambrose tagged the rear of the No. 83 Toyota, sending Vickers into Kahne and both RBR drivers into the wall. Vickers was less than pleased with the incident, turning a hard right into Ambrose’s car under caution on the next lap. Vickers was invited to the NASCAR hauler after the race to discuss the incident. He was also told to park his car for a little while to cool down. As a result, Ambrose was out of contention for the wild card spot long before the end of the race. He finished 21st.
Johnson Vs Busch: Round Two
Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch have had recent history with each other at Pocono Raceway last month, slamming fenders in the closing laps of the race. Tempers flared yet again under the lights Saturday night, right before the halfway point of the race. Busch hit Johnson’s bumper while getting into a turn and spun him. Although it looked as though Busch got in to the turn too hot and slammed on the brakes to avoid wrecking, Johnson didn’t see it as accidental and retaliated 56 laps later.
After the race Busch said, “He’s been able to beat the guys the last five years by out-driving them with what he has for equipment. If he wants to switch equipment, let’s see what we can do. I’m going to beat him fair and square with my Penske Dodge.” Johnson didn’t seemed too concerned with his comments saying, “I’m sure I’ll go find him and talk to him and he’ll run his mouth and we’ll go from there.”
Sources say that during an interview with a NASCAR.com reporter Joe Menzer, Busch lost his temper and had to be restrained when asked about the incident with Johnson. The war with words didn’t end there and continued when the drivers were forced to share the podium in the media center together.
From the looks of it, this battle isn’t going to end any time soon. Busch is a proven winner and knows how to win a championship. However, if he’s more concerned with getting “into Johnson’s head”, he should give up contending for the Sprint Cup title now. Johnson is a five-time champion of this series and it’s almost impossible to get “inside of his head.” As far as I’m concerned, Kurt Busch is the last thing on Jimmie Johnson’s mind.
Chase Run Down
The top-12 in points are now: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin. David Ragan did his best to steal the wild card from Hamlin, but fell short finishing the race in fourth.
We head to Chicagoland Speedway next week and I’m sure we’ll see just as much action, if not more.