It all comes down to this.
Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is the last race before the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship field is set. And this is Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Quicken Loans Racing team’s last chance to lock themselves into the field that will compete for the title in the 10-race Chase.
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne, who is 12th in points, has the first wild card via his two wins. The second wild card is held by Martin Truex Jr., who is 13th in points with one victory. Newman is the only other driver between 11th and 20th with a victory.
Currently 14th in points, Newman would clinch at least a wild-card spot with a victory Saturday night. He could lock himself into the top-10, as well, as he finds himself just 20 points outside the 10th and final guaranteed position in the Chase field. He could clinch a wild-card spot without scoring the win at Richmond, but only if Joey Logano and Greg Biffle remain in the top-10 or are replaced by Kahne. If that happens, Newman must out-point current wild-card holder Truex by six points in the race. Jeff Gordon must not win; and if Brad Keselowski or Jamie McMurray wins, Newman needs to have a strong enough finish that neither driver would be able to overtake him in the points.
Sound complicated? Well, it is. Newman and his crew chief Matt Borland-led team will focus on making it easy. “Win and we’re in,” they’ll say. And, at Newman’s statistically best track – his average Richmond finish is 11.8 – Newman expects he will contend not only to make the Chase, but to potentially win the race, as well.
Newman has one win (September 2003) and one pole, five top-five finishes and 13 top-10s in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond. And since joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009, Richmond has been one of the better tracks on the circuit for the No. 39 team.
Should Newman be able to race his way into the Chase this weekend, it wouldn’t be the first time the Quicken Loans driver has made the Chase in the final regular-season race. He was one point outside the playoffs heading to Richmond in September 2005 but grabbed one of the coveted Chase spots with a solid 12th-place finish.
Knowing a win would guarantee their presence in the Chase, Newman and the No. 39 team know it will be imperative to put all their energy, focus and determination on the race itself and do whatever it takes to drive the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet straight to victory lane and into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.