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Sprint Cup might let loose at Richmond with Chase for the Championship nearly set

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is all but set entering tonight's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

But that does not mean the regular-season finale will be devoid of excitement.

On the contrary. Some are saying that the Air Guard 400 might be more exciting because the locked-in bunch will be bigger and hungrier and, hence, less prone to be conservative than in some years past.

"When you clinch," driver Jeff Burton said, "you get to go to Richmond and be in the shape to run really hard. We are going to run it really hard. We are going to kick it off this weekend in Richmond and just bring everything we have. There's no more protecting now."

When the green flag drops, all but two of the top-12 drivers in points will be locked into the 10-race, season-ending Chase.

And Greg Biffle is virtually in — all he has to do is finish 42nd in a 43-car field, or lead one lap.

So really, only 12th place is up for grabs. That position also will be tough to pry away from its owner as Clint Bowyer has a 117-point lead over 13th-place Ryan Newman. Jamie McMurray (14th) and Mark Martin (15th) remain mathematically alive, but barely.

All Bowyer needs to do to earn the third Chase berth of his career is finish 28th or better; finish 29th or better and lead a lap; or finish 31st or better and lead the most laps.

"Man, I'll tell you, with a 117-point lead, that's a pretty good pad," Bowyer, who is starting fourth, said Friday.

So he wasn't very worried, and he refused to dwell on potential pratfalls that could derail his season.

"Anything can happen at any time. You can get run over crossing the street," Bowyer said.

It all adds up to the fact that nearly every driver will have zero pressure and should be more willing to take some chances in pursuit of victory. Especially late in the race.

"If you get down to the top four guys," Biffle said of late-race action, "and let's say they're Chase guys, then they're foaming at the mouth."

The impetus to run hard and win — aside from always wanting to win — is the 10 bonus points given for each victory to start the Chase.

Bonus points are gold going into the Chase, and drivers have been known to do some pretty crazy things to acquire that gold.

"Our goal is to try and do what we can to win and get those 10 extra bonus points," said Tony Stewart, a winner last week at Atlanta. "That's our focus. It's all or nothing for us."

Then, of course, there will be that large group of drivers racing like crazy because their Chase dreams faded to black long ago.

"For many (Chase) teams it'll be a situation of absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain in the Richmond race, and it certainly has all aspects that could lead up to a really wild battle there (tonight)," Kurt Busch said.

"For all the other teams, about 25 or more of them, it's a case of trying to get all the glory they can."

Sounds pretty darn exciting.

Edwards starting on pole

Carl Edwards earned the pole for tonight's race with a lap of 127.762 mph, edging Juan Montoya (127.455) The pole is the sixth of Edwards' career and his second this season. David Reutimann of Zephyrhills will line up fifth (127.017 mph).

. fast facts

Sprint Cup points

Through 25 of 36 races. The top 12 drivers through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship (top 10 have clinched).

Driver Pts. Back

Kevin Harvick 3,585—

Jeff Gordon 3,366 219

Kyle Busch 3,325 260

Tony Stewart 3,302 283

Carl Edwards 3,288 297

Jeff Burton 3,261 324

Jimmie Johnson 3,247 338

Kurt Busch 3,228 357

Matt Kenseth 3,225 360

Denny Hamlin 3,147 438

Greg Biffle 3,110 475

Clint Bowyer 3,066 519

Ryan Newman 2,949 636

Jamie McMurray 2,938 647

Mark Martin 2,919 666

Tonight's race

Air Guard 400, 7:30, Richmond (Va.) International Raceway TV: Ch. 28

Sprint Cup might let loose at Richmond with Chase for the Championship nearly set 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 9:07pm]
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