(AP) Gordon’s 2012 drive gives hope to Chase contenders
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Jeff Gordon rolled into Richmond International Raceway last year with his season on the line, locked in a tight battle with Kyle Busch for one of the last spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
His hopes were nearly dashed as soon as the race began.
Gordon’s car was barely drivable and he struggled to keep pace, falling a lap down early. But the race was stalled by three different rain showers, his Hendrick Motorsports team made major adjustments to his Chevrolet and Gordon used a vintage drive to storm through the field and finish second – claiming his spot in the Chase.
So as he heads into Saturday night’s race as one of 10 drivers jockeying for the five remaining Chase berths, Gordon knows nothing is out of reach.
That’s the lesson all eligible drivers will take into Saturday night.
Breathing a little easy heading into the deciding race is Dale Earnhardt Jr., ranked seventh in the Sprint Cup standings. Although he’s winless this season, he’s got a 37-point cushion on 11th-place and needs only to finish 32nd or better Saturday night to clinch a spot in the top 10.
Joey Logano is eighth in points, with a win to fall back on, and can clinch a top-10 spot with a finish of 11th or better. His victory makes him eligible for a wild card if he falls outside the top 10. Logano, who has not finished lower than eighth in the last six races, is seeking his first career Chase berth.
Greg Biffle is ninth in points, has a victory and clinches a top-10 spot with a finish of ninth or better.
Kurt Busch is one of the most compelling story lines as he seeks to become the first driver for a single-car organization to make the Chase. It would come two seasons after his career was derailed following his firing from Penske Racing.
Although he’s winless on the season, he’s ranked 10th in points, holds a six-point edge over 11th, and wraps up a Chase berth by finishing second with at least one lap led or finishing third with the most laps led. He would have to be overtaken by at least one (and possibly more) of the six drivers behind him.
He’s leaving Furniture Row Racing at the end of the season to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, but said he thinks his tiny team can win a championship before he goes.
Gordon is 11th in points, six points behind Busch, winless on the season and he needs a victory to clinch at least a wild-card spot. He remains in contention for a top-10 spot, but would need to pass several drivers ahead of him in the standings.
Martin Truex Jr., driving with a broken right wrist, is 13th in the standings but has a win this season. A victory Saturday would get him into the Chase with at least the wild-card, and he could still move into the top-10.
Ryan Newman, 14th in points and 20 points outside the top-10, has a win and needs a victory to get at least a wild-card. That’s how he was thinking headed into the race.
Behind Newman is defending series champion Brad Keselowski, who is in danger of becoming the first champion since Tony Stewart in 2006 not eligible to defend his title. Keselowski is 15th in the standings, 28 points behind 10th and winless. He must win Saturday night just to be in contention for a wild-card spot.