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Denny Hamlin became the new Sprint Cup points leader after re-seeding.
Clint Bowyer stretched his last tank of fuel to win the Federated Auto Parts 400, while Jeff Gordon rebounded from an absolutely horrible early stretch of the race to finish second and race his way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
It is Bowyer's second win of the 2012 campaign, giving him six total bonus points as the Chase opens next week and marks the second multi-win campaign of his career. His victory came despite an early spin thanks to a flat tire caused by contact with Juan Pablo Montoya.
Mark Martin finished third, with Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth completing the top-five. Stewart, who started 28th, held on to his 10th-place position in the standings and now will share the second seed with fellow three-time winners Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.
Jeff Burton finished sixth, followed by Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, and Kevin Harvick.
Kyle Busch finished 16th and wound up missing the Chase by three markers to Gordon. Kasey Kahne, who finished 12th, claimed the first wild card with his two wins earlier this season.
Hamlin dominated the race but had to pit late and finished 18th, keeping him from adding to his bonus point total with a fifth win. He'll still open the Chase as the top seed with 12 total bonus points.
The Chase standings heading to Chicagoland next week, unofficially, are as follows.
1. Denny Hamlin (4 wins) 2012 points
T2. Jimmie Johnson (3 wins) 2009
T2. Brad Keselowski (3 wins) 2009
T2. Tony Stewart (3 wins) 2009
T5. Greg Biffle (2 wins) 2006
T5. Clint Bowyer (2 wins) 2006
T7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win) 2003
T7. Matt Kenseth (1 win) 2003
T9. Kevin Harvick 2003
T9. Martin Truex Jr. 2003
T9. Kasey Kahne 2000
T9. Jeff Gordon 2000
Denny Hamlin is where he's been much of the night - sitting out front - at the halfway point in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, but the faces tailing him have changed.
Clint Bowyer currently holds down the second position, followed by teammate Martin Truex Jr. The Michael Waltrip Racing Camrys are both locked into the Chase - the first two of Waltrip's teams to ever qualify for the playoff -and have been consistent enough throughout the summer that they cannot be eliminated from discussion of drivers who could potentially win the championship.
Kasey Kahne runs fourth in his No. 5 Chevrolet and seems certain to make the Chase via the first wild card position, while teammate Jimmie Johnson holds down fifth. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. - who either led or ran second to Hamlin for much of the race before sliding back on the most recent restart - Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Stewart, and Brad Keselowski complete the top-five.
Kyle Busch is a frustrated 12th, but he sits well ahead of his rivals for the second and final wild card spot. It will take a disaster such as a blown engine or an accident to deny the Joe Gibbs pilot of a Chase berth.
With 151 of 400 laps in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, rain has hit the track once again and put the event under the red flag.
Denny Hamlin has led a race-high 83 laps and holds the top spot as the cars park on pit road. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second, followed by Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne. Martin Truex Jr., Sam Hornish Jr., Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart (all the way from 28th) round out the top-10.
Jeff Gordon is struggling mightily in 26th-place and, barring a miraculous turnaround, is likely to miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the second time in the nine-year history of the format. His rival for the wild card Kyle Busch currently sits 11th but had been in the top-10 nearly all night before being displaced shortly before the red flag by Stewart.
With 49 laps still to complete before the race would be official, NASCAR can not end the race if the rain continues. If that winds up being the case, the race will resume tomorrow afternoon.
No, this isn't a repeat of the last two weeks. It is a live update of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, and Denny Hamlin is out front once again in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Hamlin shows the way at lap 125, ahead of polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer. Jimmie Johnson, who would like a win so he could join Hamlin with a share of the top seed for the Chase next week, sits fourth and Martin Truex Jr. rounds out the top-five.
Kevin Harvick, looking for his first win of the 2012 season at the race he got his last win in a year ago. Sam Hornish Jr. runs seventh as he looks to audition for sponsors so Roger Penske could run him in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012. Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, and Greg Biffle round out the top-10.
Jeff Gordon is struggling with a poor-handling race car after starting second and leading the first three circuits. He currently runs 18th. His hopes of making the Chase hinged on either winning the race or out-pacing Busch by 12 points. That looks highly unlikely at this juncture.
Rain is approaching the track and could end the race shy of its scheduled 400-lap distance. If the race is past it's 200th lap when the rain hits, NASCAR could make it official. That would be a frustrating way to end the regular season, but that's the risk NASCAR took when it went green this evening rather than waiting until tomorrow afternoon.
Polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave up the lead to teammate Jeff Gordon for two brief laps to open the Federated Auto Parts 400, then retook the top spot and held it until NASCAR's competition caution flag at lap 45.
Denny Hamlin, winner of back-to-back races, had closed in on Earnhardt for the lead at the yellow flag. Earnhardt led the race off pit road over Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., and Jimmie Johnson. Kasey Kahne, chasing Tony Stewart for tenth in the point standings, is sixth, ahead of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Sam Hornish Jr., Greg Biffle, and Kevin Harvick.
Gordon dropped outside the top-15 as his team attempted to adjust for the ill handling on his No. 24 Chevrolet that had sent him dropping through the top-10 before the yellow. Busch, his chief rival for the wild card, had steadily moved forward from a 15th-place starting position. As Gordon had to win the race or at least beat Busch by 12 points to overhaul him for the final wild card spot, so far, not so good for the four-time champ.
For years, the commend for the drivers to fire their cars up - "Gentlemen, start your engines!" - has long been referred to as "the four-most famous words in motorsports." Tonight, after a day of watching the weather and wondering if there would be racing at the Richmond International Raceway, they are also the most beautiful words in motorsports.
The engines are fired and the Federated Auto Parts 400 is now moments from its green flag and the beginning of the last 400 laps of the 2012 Sprint Cup regular season. A bevy of storylines, from the fight for the last wild card spot to Denny Hamlin's bid for a third-straight victory to Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.'s pursuit of their first wins of 2012, make this one of the most intriguing races of the 2012 campaign. It's only right that the race get underway under the lights, as it was supposed to be all along, rather than waiting til tomorrow afternoon and competing under the sunshine.
The Richmond International Raceway is drying nicely and driver intros the Federated Auto Parts 400 are underway. NASCAR is hopeful that they can get the race started shortly after 9 p.m.
With 400 laps remaining in the regular season, most of the lead up for tonight's race has focused on the battle for the wild card. The drivers already set in the top-10 can not be ignored, however, as they go for three more bonus points for the start of the Chase.
Four-time winner Denny Hamlin will start no worse than in a tie for the top seed next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. A fifth win tonight will give him 15 bonus points to open the 10-race playoff, while if he holds stagnant and none of the three-time race winners - Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Tony Stewart - get into victory lane, he'll have 12.
In addition to those drivers looking for the top seed, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will be looking for their first wins of the season to make sure they don't open the Chase with zero points like the two wild card drivers.
A downpour from the same cell that has got the Braves and Mets in a holding pattern in Flushing, New York right now will at least delay the start of this evening's Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff at Richmond International Raceway. The .75-mile speedway is completely drenched, and it will take an hour for the track to be dried once it stops a-pourin'.
On the positive side, NASCAR weather guru Brian Neudorff just tweeted that he sees an increased possibility that the cars will get on the track tonight. That's a good sign considering the realistic-not-optimistic view Brian has had pretty much all week and up through today.
If the race does not get underway tonight, it will begin at 1 p.m. tomorrow afternoon on ESPN, rather than its scheduled spot on ABC here this evening. Whether it starts tonight or tomorrow, the green race track will throw drivers and crew chiefs for a loop as they try to compensate for all the grip they had all weekend that has been washed out to Williamsburg by now. It will certainly make for an interesting race, especially for the drivers seeking the 12th Chase spot.
NASCAR's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Speedway in Richmond, Va., is scheduled to run Saturday night, but rain could delay or even postpone the event.
SB Nation motorsports editor Jeff Gluck, from his round-up on the nuts and bolts of the race:
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says rain will almost certainly delay the race or even postpone it. Make sure to follow Neudorff on Twitter - he's @nascar_wxman - for more information.
If the race begins on time, pole winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the rest of the field will take the green flag just before 7:45 p.m. ET. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is tentatively scheduled to give the command for drivers to start their engines. Again, if the race is running on schedule, that is scheduled to happen at 7:38 p.m.
Earnhardt Jr. won the pole in Friday's qualifying, his 11th career pole position and first since the 2011 Daytona 500.
TV: ABC, coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET
Radio stream: Motor Racing Network
Satellite Radio: Race on XM 90; driver feeds on XM 225-227
Terrestrial Radio: A list of Motor Racing Network affiliates can be found here.
Check out our SB Nation NASCAR hub for more auto racing.
For a time this summer, Denny Hamlin looked like he might need to rely on a wild card to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He endured a miserable eight-race stretch that began with a fiery accident at Michigan in June, a race he'd won the previous two years. A late incident with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Joey Logano and Kyle Busch at Sonoma sent him to the garage 14 laps from the end with a broken suspension, marking just the second time in his career he'd failed to finish consecutive races.
The Darian Grubb-led No. 11 team temporarily stopped the bleeding with a third place run at Kentucky, before a grinding crash at Daytona left them 25th. Hamlin dominated at Loudon and should have won handily, but a mix-up between the driver and crew chief on what he was looking for in terms of tires (he wanted two like the rest of the leaders, Grubb assumed he wanted four) dropped him deep in the pack. He nearly caught Kasey Kahne for the win, but settled for the runner-up spot. The team grabbed the pole at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but finished sixth.
Hamlin was the victim in the late-race dust up involving race leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth at Pocono that allowed Jeff Gordon to win. Hamlin hit the side of Kenseth's car, doing a number on his back that has given him problems all year. A blown engine and another fire at Watkins Glen one week later gave him two more back-to-back DNFs. An 11th at Michigan stopped the bleeding, but Hamlin had fallen to the Chase cutoff spot in 10th, with Kahne looming in his rear-view mirror.
The Sprint Cup series has run two races since that Michigan event, and it is though the No. 11 team has flipped a switch. At Bristol, they led 70 laps - a number stunted by pit strategies that varied all night long; Hamlin had the best car - and won for the first time at the half-mile bullring that had denied them cruelly in the past.
Then, last weekend's Advocare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hamlin led a race-high 105 laps. When a caution flag erased Martin Truex Jr's lead with four laps to go, Hamlin's crew got him out of the pits first after entering third. He then held off a hungry Jeff Gordon - read: as dangerous a race car driver as you can imagine when he can sniff a win - to grab his 21st-career win and his second-straight.
The first time in his career that Hamlin won back-to-back races, in June 2010 at Pocono and Michigan, his streak was stopped with a miserable two-crash day at Sonoma that left him 34th.
Now anything can happen in a Sprint Cup race, of course, but Hamlin finishing that poorly Saturday evening is highly unlikely. He's racing at his home venue, the Richmond International Raceway. He won the Federated Auto Parts 400 in 2009 and again in 2010, before taking a tough ninth-place result in what was an all-around disappointing 2011 campaign.
Hamlin looks much less like he did last year and much more like he did entering the previous two Chases: full of swagger. A third-straight win - something he's never done and something no driver has done period since Jimmie Johnson won four-consecutive races in late 2007 - will do nothing but further boost the confidence of a driver that can be downright cocky - and very hard to beat - when things are going well.
That could be dangerous as he looks to finally exorcise the demons of that 2010 season, where he won a series-best eight races but squandered a 15-point lead (under the old system, equal to about three to five points under the current system that was implemented in 2011) in the last race at Homestead and saw Johnson win his fifth-straight title.
Hamlin starts seventh this evening, perilously close to the front for his rivals who have seen what he can do when he gets out front at Richmond. In 2008 he started from the pole and led 381 of the first 382 laps before a flat tire ruined his day - and set up the controversial accident between Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. - and he's led nearly 1200 trips around his home circuit.
His four wins this season have guaranteed that Hamlin will begin the Chase at the very worst tied for the No. 1 seed, and if Johnson, Brad Keselowski, or Tony Stewart fail to win Saturday, he'll stand alone at the top. If the No. 11 Camry pulls into victory lane for a third-straight week tonight, he'll also stand alone as the favorite to claim the 2012 Sprint Cup crown.
Before Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had already had a strong 2012 season. He broke his long winless drought in June at Michigan and entered the Chase cutoff race second in the Sprint Cup standings. The only thing NASCAR's most popular driver hadn't done, pretty much, was win a pole.
You can cross that goal off the list.
Earnhardt Jr. toured the Richmond International Raceway in 21.26 seconds to grab the pole for Saturday's Federated Auto Parts 400. It is Earnhardt's 11th-career pole and his first since last year's Daytona 500.
Teammate Jeff Gordon, seeking to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup title with a win or at least a strong performance coupled with a poor one from Kyle Busch, will roll off second. Regan Smith, Clint Bowyer, and Jimmie Johnson complete the top-five.
Mark Martin will start sixth, followed by Denny Hamlin (seeking his third-consecutive victory), Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski.
Among the drivers seeking the 12th and final spot in the Chase, Gordon obviously led the way with his runner-up performance, followed by Logano in eighth. Ryan Newman was 14th, one spot ahead of Kyle Busch. Busch currently holds the edge thanks to his April win at RIR, but Gordon will take over the top spot unofficially once the green-flag drops. Marcos Ambrose will start 22nd.
Carl Edwards, winless through 25 races, will start 16th. Edwards needs a Hail Mary if he is to have any shot to try to win the championship that slipped away a year ago, with only a victory plus poor performances by both Busch and Gordon remaining his only chance to make the playoff.
Rain isn't expected to affect Friday's qualifying, race or practices for Saturday night's scheduled NASCAR Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Speedway, even though possible bad weather could postpone the main event to Sunday.
The qualifying for the regular-season closer is scheduled for Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET. This is the last chance for several wild-card hopefuls to grab the final two spots in the Chase. Denny Hamlin, a Virginia native, has won two of the last three September races at the track and has won two races in a row. Kyle Busch, who is looking to grab one of those wild card spots, has won four straight spring races in Richmond, so he seems to be as big a favorite for the Chase as anyone.
Sprint Cup qualifying for Saturday night's can be seen on ESPN2. The Deuce is also showing the Nationwide qualifying at 4 p.m. and the Nationwide Series race later in the evening at 7:30. Sprint Cup practice can be seen on ESPN2 beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Check out our SB Nation NASCAR hub for more auto racing.
For the second time in the nine-year history of the Chase cutoff event at Richmond International Raceway, the 400-lapper very well could be postponed to Sunday afternoon. NASCAR weather guru Brian Neudorff filed this report for SB Nation's NASCAR hub and gave the race a 10% chance of being run under the lights Saturday.
In 2008, the race was postponed on Friday afternoon due to approaching weather from Tropical Storm Hanna. Though the race had plenty of action up front - Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart dueled side-by-side for the lead for several laps - and in the battle for the last Chase spot - Clint Bowyer ultimately kept Georgian David Ragan and Kasey Kahne out of the playoff - the electricity found in a race under the stars was tempered a bit in the sunshine.
This year's battle for the final Chase spot dwarfs any in the format's history, with such names as Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards seeking to sneak into championship contention. Sparks are bound to fly over the course of the 400 circuits around the track. Let's just hope the rain stays away so we'll be able to see them on our television screens Saturday night.
Happy hasn't been all that happy too often in 2012, at least from a professional standpoint.
Obviously the birth of his first child will put this year over the top for Kevin Harvick, but his on-track exploits through 25 races have largely left one of the pre-season favorites for the Sprint Cup crown unfulfilled.
Saturday, Harvick will look not only to defend his 2011 triumph in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, but to also win his first race of the 2012 campaign. His only top fives of the season are a pair of seconds at Phoenix and Dover, a fourth at Fontana, and a fifth-place finish in Sunday's Advocare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Harvick's struggles have bewildered onlookers. The most obvious difference in this year and the past two seasons, when Harvick won seven races and challenged for the championship in 2010, was that Shane Wilson - not Gil Martin - was atop the pit box. Harvick and Wilson obliterated Nationwide Series teams during one of that division's most dominant championship runs ever in 2006, then followed it up with a part-time campaign that continued the beat-down.
For whatever reason in 2012, they weren't able to get things going, and Martin was re-assigned to the No. 29 team beginning at Bristol. In the second race of the reunion at Atlanta, Harvick led 101 laps - second to winner Denny Hamlin's 105 - and finished fifth at a track that often has been a thorn in the Californian's side despite the fact that he got his very first win there in an emotional 2001 triumph.
Now this weekend, Harvick and Martin head to Richmond looking for their first win in a year and looking to repeat history, one way or the other. Obviously, claiming a win and picking up three bonus points for the Chase would be ideal. If someone else stands in victory lane and the No. 29 team begins the ten-race playoff without a win, Harvick's buddy Tony Stewart will likely be their inspiration.
Of course, last season, Stewart went winless during the regular season - declaring with three races remaining that his team didn't even deserve to make the Chase, that they would be wasting a spot - and then proceeded to go on a five-for-ten romp in the Chase to earn his third series championship.
Harvick is still looking for his first title, which would be the seventh for Richard Childress Racing. The prior six, of course, came with Dale Earnhardt at the helm. Harvick has long stepped out of the shadow of The Intimidator, whom he had the unenviable task of replacing after the legendary racer was killed at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. He has been his own man with his own identity for years now, with triumphs in the sport's two biggest races - the Brickyard 400 in 2003, the Daytona 500 in 2007 - counting among his 18 victories.
Though this year has, thus far, left the team far shy of their expectations, the reunion of Harvick and Martin and the out-of-nowhere title run for Stewart last year still leaves plenty hope for the No. 29 team and the legions of fans who back the 36-year-old from Bakersfield that this will be Harvick's year to sit at the head table in Las Vegas in December, after all.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup's regular season wraps up with Saturday's Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond, Va., which means it's do-or-die time for the drivers still trying to secure a position in The Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Here's a look at the schedule for Saturday (all times Eastern):
|SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8TH|
|7 a.m.||Parking lots open|
|9 a.m.||Will Call, Ticket Booths and Administration Building Ticket Office Open|
|10 a.m. -7 p.m.||Fan Fest presented by Chevy, Midway Display Area, Virginia 529 Kids Zone, and V.I.B.E. Open|
|1-6:30 p.m.||Pit Stop Club Open|
|2 p.m.||Grandstands, Torque Club, and Suites Open|
|2-6:30 p.m.||3-Wide Open|
|2-6:30 p.m.||Pre-Race Pit Access (All Hospitality Areas)|
|2-7 p.m.||Capital One Corporate Hospitality Pavilion Open|
|7 p.m.||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver introductions|
|7:30 p.m.||Federated Auto Parts 400 race (400 LAPS - 300 MILES)|
For a complete weekend schedule, visit the Richmond International Raceway website.
The regular season for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series concludes Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. As many as nine drivers could be dueling for a wild card spot in the Federated Auto Parts 400, won in 2011 by Kevin Harvick.
The field for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup is nearly set.
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