Tonight: NASCAR’s moment of truth

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 10, 2005

Special to the News-Herald

After 25 races and thousands of laps, the championship hopes of 10 drivers will be determined in one night, Saturday night at Richmond. The field will be set for the Chase for the Nextel Cup after the race and the 10 eligible drivers will compete for the championship in a 10-race shootout.

The top six in the points – Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Kurt Busch – can relax Saturday night as they have all clinched spots in the chase. The real fun will come among drivers sitting in eighth through 13th positions. Only 137 points separate those six drivers and anything can happen. Remember back to this race last season, Jeremy Mayfield was 55 points out of 10th going into the race. He won the race and went into the final 10 races in ninth position. Elliot Sadler is in a similar position; he is currently 52 points out of 10th and needs to visit victory lane to have a chance. Drivers such as Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick, and Joe Nemechek have a mathematical chance to qualify for the chase, but not a realistic one.

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The driver that finishes 11th will have some consolation in not making the chase. A cool million bucks goes to the guy that comes this close to making the chase.

Jeff Gordon fell out of the top 10 with a 21st finish at California last week and is 30 points out of tenth. Gordon needs a strong finish and some hard luck for drivers in front of him to get an invitation to the party. The television networks and the management of NASCAR would love for Gordon to make the chase, but if you ask the other drivers if they want to compete with Gordon over a ten-race stretch you will get a different answer.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s blown engine at California last week ended his chances of making the chase and ended the misery of having that slim chance. Junior can now concentrate on winning races and getting ready for next season.

A total of 14 active racers have won at Richmond and several drivers have won their first career race here, including Kasey Kahne in the spring race this year. Rusty Wallace has won six races and led an unbelievable 3000 laps at this track and it would be a fitting ending to win this race in last appearance.

My pick to win this weekend is Kahne. Dodge has been on a streak here, winning three of the last four races and Kahne will sweep the races here for the year. In the process, he will also play the role of spoiler for those competing for the chase.

Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Saturday on TNT and the green flag will fly around 8 p.m.