One driver has moved in and one has fallen out at Richmond each year since the Chase for the Nextel Cup format began.
Kasey Kahne was 89 points clear in 2004, but Jeremy Mayfield knocked him out. Jamie McMurray fell out and Ryan Newman climbed in for the 2005 Chase, and last year Kahne made the big comeback and knocked Tony Stewart out.
But a change this year would be The Miracle of Richmond.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 128 points out of 12th. He has to finish at least fifth if he leads the most laps, at least third if he leads at least one lap or third if he doesn’t lead any laps to have any shot. And that only works if Harvick finishes 43rd.
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If neither Kurt Busch nor Kevin Harvick encounters disaster, the Chase field is set. And that could be a good thing for the race itself.
The 10 guys already locked into the field have nothing at all to gain by finishing second. Denny Hamlin badly wants to win at his “home” track and Jeff Gordon needs a win to keep from falling into second place behind Jimmie Johnson as the Chase starts after having led the standings all year.
Saturday night’s race could have the same feel as the Nextel All-Star Challenge, where winning is really the only thing that matters. Or, it could wind up feeling like the final game of the NFL’s preseason, where teams rest their starters in fear of getting somebody injured for the real work ahead.