It’s time to get down to business. Just one race remains until the start of the Chase, so the Richmond race this Saturday should be one of the most hotly contested events of the entire season.
The question everyone wants to know before the green flag waves is: Will a new winner emerge to steal a Chase spot?
In some cases, drivers that are already in the top 16 on points don’t have much to worry about. But in others, a berth could be earned by simply pulling out a win on Saturday despite not having the points to get into NASCAR’s postseason.
Leading up to the compelling race, let’s take a look at three drivers who could clinch a Chase berth with a win on Saturday night.
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports
Sure, Jeff Gordon doesn’t have much to worry about with only one regular season race left in his storied career. The No. 24 machine would need disaster to strike in order to miss out on the Chase, but he can build some much-needed momentum with a victory at Richmond.
It’s not a far stretch for Gordon, either. He’s won three races at RIR, so he knows what it takes to get to Victory Lane. While his last win at the track came in 2000, Gordon has four straight top-10 finishes and three second-place finishes in his last six races at Richmond.
Gordon has no issues with mounting pressure late in the season—which has been a regular occurrence for the No. 24 driver during the Chase era.
“I feel like I handle stress pretty well,” Gordon said at Darlington. “And it certainly helps when you’ve been through it a number of times. But it doesn’t mean that it goes away. You know what’s on the line. You know what you have to do.
“And that’s where I probably just try to turn my focus and attention to is just doing the job that I need to do and not try to overthink it.”
In the last four races, Gordon has no top-15 finishes and has led a total of one lap. But with 173 laps led last year at Richmond and a huge weight he needs to take off his shoulders, Gordon can get to Victory Lane this weekend to secure a Chase berth and build momentum.
Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing
This season has been a rough one for not only Clint Bowyer, but Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole. Bowyer will move on to greener pastures, but that doesn’t mean he can’t finish with an emphatic statement about what MWR has done for the sport.
The 2012 runner-up in points actually started his run toward nearly winning a championship with a victory in the fall race at Richmond. When a driver knows how to get to Victory Lane at a track, he never forgets. In the case of Bowyer, he nearly did the same last year with a third-place result.
Even with significantly less starts at RIR than the aforementioned Gordon, Bowyer has pulled off two wins with two different teams.
Previous Richmond winners with no victories this year: Stewart – 3 Richmond wins Gordon – 2 Bowyer – 2 Kahne – 1 Newman – 1
— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) September 9, 2015
Before Bowyer heads to another team—he’s been linked to Richard Petty Motorsports—he can go out with a bang with his third Chase appearance in four years with MWR. While a solid run might get him there, a win would solidify him as one of the final 16 drivers competing for a title.
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports
Ah, the Hendrick Motorsports stable again. This time, the driver behind the wheel is in slightly more dire straits. Kasey Kahne, who has won a race in each of the last four seasons, has been shut out this year. More importantly, he doesn’t have a Chase berth locked in either.
He can change all of that on Saturday night at Richmond.
Similar to Gordon, Kahne hasn’t won at RIR in over a decade. However, his sixth-place finish earlier this year proves the No. 5 car can compete for a win on the track.
Oh, and he’s done this before. Last season, Kahne was on the outside looking in before a win in Atlanta in the penultimate regular season race. Don’t count Kahne out in these situations, even at 18th in the points standings coming in.