With the 67th Annual Bojangles Southern 500 in the books, only one more race remains before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins. While 13 drivers have won a regular-season event and have clinched a spot inside the top 16, there are three that are currently in on points and four within striking distance. Another thing to point out is that six out of the seven ‘bubble’ teams come out of the Chevrolet camp. After the upcoming Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, we’ll know who survived.
Although Chris Buescher won the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono after the race was shortened due to inclement weather and is holding down 13th in the Chase standings, the driver of the No. 34 Ford is not safe. Not only does a driver have to have won a race, they also must remain within the top 30 in the point standings. After a 17th-place run at Darlington, Buescher is currently ahead of David Ragan with 11 points, meaning he needs to avoid catastrophe at Richmond.
“We just dug down and got everything we could every time,” Buescher told NBC about his Darlington finish. “We ended up getting a little bit lucky at times but we worked really hard to put ourselves in that position. At the end of the night, there are positives out of it and looking forward to Richmond now.”
Austin Dillon is ranked 15th. He encountered some pit road issues but still came home 12th in the No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet. “We fell behind early with a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road during a pit stop,” he explained in a post-race report from Richard Childress Racing. “I guess there is an elevation change leading into our pit box but I can’t really make an excuse. It happens.”
Another pit-road flub for Dillon came during a green-flag pit stop when he over shot the pit stall. He knows he will have to stay mistake-free at Richmond. “All-in-all, we just have to have a clean race in order to make it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves into position to have a shot. Whatever happens at Richmond happens there. I have confidence in this team.”
Jamie McMurray is 16th, currently on the chopping block. He hasn’t won a race this season but his chances are still alive. The driver of the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet took home a 15th-place finish at the track ‘too tough to tame’.
Like Dillon, McMurray also had some pit road trouble. “I guess we had a couple of lugnuts off,” McMurray told NBC. “It’s just part of it. You’re trying to get your best pit stop. I think it’s real easy to get mad but everyone’s doing their best and sometimes mistakes happen. We should have easily run about sixth or seventh tonight and we would have had another solid points day. Richmond will be interesting.”
Ryan Newman led nine laps and finished eighth at Darlington but knows things could have gone better. “Tonight wasn’t what we wanted,” he said in the RCR report. “We had a lot to overcome. We had a lot better car than our result and that’s hard.”
After being forced to the back at the start and falling two laps down during a pit sequence, Newman finally got back on the lead lap. He is still thinking positive. “Our Cat Chevy was fast from the get go,” he said. “It gives us hope going into Richmond. We go there like we always do, to win. I’ve been in this situation before. We’ll go and do everything we can to win and make the transfer.”
The No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet driver is sitting 17th in the standings, only seven points out. Here’s the problem. Newman is facing a penalty and a possible point deduction after his car and the No. 42 Target Chevrolet of Kyle Larson failed post-race inspection. If Newman does indeed get tagged for this, it will have big implications on his Chase hopes. Penalties will be announced later this week.
Ryan Blaney’s night started out rough but when the checkered flag flew, he earned a 13th-place finish. “That's a long race to begin with and we made it longer by having bad racing luck with that caution early in the race, which put us down two laps,” he explained in a Ford Performance transcript. “Then I got into the wall in (turns) three and four that caused a flat tire, then got together with the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger) and we were down two laps. At about the halfway part of the race there wasn't much to feel positive about but the team kept working and battling and we ended up with a decent finish."
The driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford sits 69 points behind in 19th.
Kasey Kahne finished seventh, earning one of two top-10 finishes for Hendrick Motorsports. The No. 5 Liftmaster Chevrolet driver is 44 points away from the top 16. “We had great pit stops,” Kahne said in a Team Chevy transcript. “The guys did a really nice job the entire race, but really at the end it gave us some positions, which was great to get a top 10. We just had a nice car with the Liftmaster Chevrolet. We had a vibration that really hurt us a lot throughout the race and we had it again the final run. When we had that I was nowhere near as good as I was when I didn’t have it. I only didn’t have it like once or twice, but it seemed like that was a pretty big part of our night. But when we didn’t have it I felt like we had a pretty nice car.”
Rounding out the seven Chase hopefuls is AJ Allmendinger. The No. 47 Kroger/Tyson 1977 Bruce Hill Throwback Chevrolet driver finished 23rd at Darlington and is currently 80 points behind the Chase cutline.