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15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota driver Clint Bowyer clinched a berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Bowyer and No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. became the first drivers in Michael Waltrip Racing history to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race playoff. This weekend the 5-hour ENERGY team races at Richmond International Raceway.
MAKING THE CHASE:“Making the Chase is huge. Not just for the drivers, but also for the crews, sponsors, team owner … everybody. We couldn’t have asked for a better season after everything that happened in the offseason. There were so many unknowns coming into this season with this team, but to be able to land on our feet with a great organization like MWR, a great sponsor like 5-hour ENERGY and great teammates in Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. – I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation. (Crew chief) Brian Pattie and everyone on our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota is just hitting on all eight cylinders at the right time and I’m looking forward to this Chase.
“This is the first time I've been in a situation where we are locked in before we get to Richmond and we can race like we have absolutely nothing to lose - and everything to gain in terms of bonus points when the system resets after the race."
ON RICHMOND:“I think it’s more important for us to go to Richmond and try to win to get those extra bonus points. We’ve really been focusing on finishing in the single digits over the last couple weeks to secure our spot in this deal. Wins are very important, but you can’t gamble for a win if you aren’t locked in. We’re locked in now and if we have even an outside shot at a win in Richmond I’m going to do everything in my power to get those bonus points. As we saw last year – every single point counts!”
2012 EXPECTATIONS:"We are definitely ahead of schedule from where I thought we would be at this point. Our goals this year were to win a race, run up front and lead laps, make the Chase and compete for the Championship. We've won a race, we've run up front and led laps, now we've made the Chase and it's time to go run for a Championship.
CHASE CHANCES: “I like where we're at. I like where our cars are at. I think we have as good of speed as about anybody in the Chase. I say it every year that there are always more and more cars and teams that are capable of winning a championship. I think it's any man’s race once you're in. It's anyone's championship to win or lose as long as you make it in."
CHASE TRACKS: "Most of the Chase races are good for me. If you ever look at my stats in the last five or six years some of my best races are in the last 10 races of the year, so for whatever reason - I think it's because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I get excited!" (laughs).
Regan Smith feels Saturday’s Sprint Cup race – the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, has the makings of being a “wild and crazy” night at the historic short track.
“With all the different Chase scenarios, there’s plenty of excitement brewing heading into the final pre-Chase race,” said Smith. “Though I am not in contention for a Chase spot, I am still pumped about this weekend. My only focus is to run up front and fight for every attainable position in our Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet.”
Smith and the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing have been showing more muscle recently. The team is coming off a strong performance in Atlanta where it just missed its third top-10 finish in five races.
Smith was ensconced in ninth place with four laps remaining in Sunday’s night’s 500 miler at Atlanta, but a late caution sent the race into a two-lap overtime shootout. Smith, who had trouble on fresh tires all night, could not get up to speed on the final restart and fell back to a 14th-place finish.
“After seeing a top-10 slip away in Atlanta, I can't wait to get back in the car and prove that we are capable of knocking off top-10s on a regular basis,” explained the 28-year-old Smith.
Smith feels all systems are ripe to post a career-best finish at the.75-mile oval. His best result in eight career starts at Richmond was 17th, which came in the 2011 spring race.
“Richmond would be an opportune time to showcase our potential by putting ourselves in position to run neck-and-neck with the Chase contenders,” said Smith.
Furniture Row Racing PR
Fortunately for Jimmie Johnson, his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship was sewn up at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway two weekends ago. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the line as the series pulls into the tight confines of Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400, the final race of the “regular season.”
Before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship starts Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., there’s the not-so-small matter of who starts the Chase as the leader, something Johnson hopes to do. By scoring his fourth win of the season last Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin broke what was a four-way tie with Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski, who each have three wins this season. If the Chase was to begin this weekend, Hamlin would be the leader by virtue of his four wins – the key factor in how drivers are seeded once they are locked in. To get that top spot, Johnson will need to win at Richmond and Hamlin would need to finish third or worse as the top seed would then be based on each driver’s next-best finish this season.
The task may be difficult as the list of drivers hoping to secure the final spots in the Chase is somewhat lengthy. Johnson struggled earlier in his career at the .75-mile Richmond oval but has recently posted better finishes. He swept the 2007 races and won again in September 2008. He was involved in several on-track incidents during the race last September, and will need to keep the fenders on his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet if he is hoping for a different outcome this year.
So while Johnson can take pride in the fact that he is the only driver to have clinched a spot in the Chase every year since its inception in 2004, there is still more on the line as he attempts to enter the Chase as the top seed for the first time since 2007 and the second time in its nine-year history.
No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. enters Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway already locked into the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But there’s plenty of motivation for the Michael Waltrip Racing driver on the three-quarter mile Virginia track.
Truex saw an untimely caution turn a three-second lead with five laps remaining into a fourth-place finish at Atlanta last weekend. The desire to revenge Atlanta combined with the bonus points awarded in the Chase for regular season victories means the Michael Waltrip Racing team will have a little extra incentive to bring home the checkered flag.
With 11 races left, Truex has already tied his single-season record for top-10 finishes with 14 and is one top-five finish away from tying his single-season record (seven) for top fives. Both records were set in 2007, the only other year he qualified for the Chase. Truex is also on pace to break his personal single-season record of most laps led in a season (581), also established in 2007. He has led 416 laps in 2012.
ATLANTA: “I was upset after the race, but as soon as I got on the plane, I started thinking about the things we could learn from it and then my focus changed to Richmond. We had a great run in Atlanta and should have won. I would love to have done it on the weekend we announced extensions with NAPA and MWR. But, it’s kind of cool to be disappointed with fourth place. That’s how far we’ve come. We’ll try it again at Richmond. We’ll get one here soon.”
ON THE CHASE: “When I made the Chase in 2007, I thought it was going to be a regular occurrence. Boy, I was wrong. I appreciate this one so much more. Making it with MWR is something I am very proud of. It’s the first time MWR has ever had a car in the Chase and we have me and Clint (Bowyer) in. But I think it is very important for people to know that we just don’t want to be in it, we want to take advantage of it. I feel like we are in a good position to do that. We are in the perfect position, actually. No one expects us to do anything so it’s a win-win situation. I talk to the media a lot. I read what they write and what they are talking about. It doesn’t bother me one bit where we stand. I see this team as a cobra, ready to strike.”
On RACING RICHMOND: “I’ll be honest. Richmond has been a mixed bag for me. Last year in the spring, we were the dominant car, but pit road issues cost us the win. This spring, we were somewhat off, but got back on track by working with our teammates. I expect us to be a favorite to win because we’ve made some gains recently that should help us at Richmond. I think we’ve also learned some things at the 2013 test at Martinsville last month that we can apply. I’m ready to get back on track and see if we can finally win one of these things.”
Understanding barriers to goal achievements is crucial to learning to win in any sport. For JTG Daugherty Racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team recognizes their impediments and understands what it takes to finish on top entering Richmond International Raceway (RIR) in the Federated Auto Parts 400.
“We’re doing everything we can to improve each week,” Labonte said.
Every team member is committed to improving and using all assets for the betterment of the racing operation in its fourth year of full-time competition. On track improvements are starting to become visible to the JTG Daugherty Racing team with the No. 47 BUSH’S Beans Toyota Camry and 21-time winner Bobby Labonte. In the two most recent events, Labonte finished fourteenth at Bristol Motor Speedway and 19th at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Brian Burns in the crew chief seat.
“We feel like we are finally back on track again after Bristol and Atlanta,” Burns said. “We’re really looking forward to Richmond because we ran well there earlier this season and are more confident about this weekend than we felt about the last two weekends.”
Labonte and Burns are on the same page.
“We’ve had some respectable finishes recently and are confident heading into Richmond,” Labonte said. “When you finish in the top-20 and the top-15, you hope top-10s follow, then top-fives and ultimately a win. We literally started from scratch at the beginning of the season and we are working hard to continue to make progress. We think this will be a good weekend for us.”
Labonte wants to keep the ball rolling at Richmond where he scored his first career pole (9/11/93) and has led 161 laps. His best finish is second that occurred in September 1999 and May 2003. He has four top-five and 10 top-10s at the .75-mile tri-oval where he finished 17th in April.
“Richmond is a track that everyone enjoys,” said Labonte. “It has more than one groove and it’s really a fun track to race on under the lights. There’s also a lot on the line for the driver’s trying to make the Chase. It should be an action-packed race with a lot of storylines to watch. A top-10 finish would be a nice storyline for us.”
Labonte is up for the challenge while the single-car team owned by Brad Daugherty, Jodi Geschickter and Tad Geschickter sits 24th in the drivers points standings and 26th in the owners.
“Brad, Tad and Jodi have set goals and I look forward to contributing to help make the team better each week,” Labonte said. “I’ve always liked a good challenge and we’re making the best of the situation and want to finish off the year strong. We look forward to a new challenge the following year. We’re getting better and improving competition.”
Live coverage from Richmond International Raceway at 7 p.m. ET airs on ABC and MRN Radio. Sirius XM will also carry the race.
Newly elected NASCAR Hall of Fame member and Iowa Speedway designer / co-owner Rusty Wallace will be on hand on Saturday, September 15 for a special fan tribute leading up to the track’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 200-lap race.
Those in attendance will have a chance to meet and talk with Wallace, a NASCAR legend and winner of 55 Cup Series races, who will be inducted into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC on February 8.
Wallace will also participate in the ‘Fan Appreciation’ pre-race ceremonies, and will be honored when majority track owners Conrad and Stan Clement are joined by four lucky fans to present the 1989 NASCAR champion with an Iowa Speedway ‘Tribute Plaque’ to commemorate his Hall of Fame induction.
“We are so proud of Rusty Wallace’s accomplishments throughout his incredibly successful NASCAR career,” said Stan Clement, President of Iowa Speedway. “Those accomplishments, and his untiring support of NASCAR racing over the years, are among the many reasons he is the youngest member to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We are looking forward to honoring him at our NASCAR Truck race, along with thousands of his fans, before he is formally inducted in Charlotte.”
Wallace will also drive one of the Official Pace Trucks for the initial start of the ‘American Ethanol 200 presented by Hy-Vee’, accompanied by two other selected race fans that will join Wallace in the Owner’s Suite to watch the final racing event of the 2012 season.
“I am honored and humbled by the outpouring of support for my induction in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, particularly from Iowa Speedway fans who have been so supportive over the years,” Wallace said. “This NASCAR Truck race weekend is really about the fans, and I’m really pleased that my schedule allows me to come to Iowa and meet many of them personally.”
Iowa Speedway PR
For Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Quicken Loans Racing team, this is it.
Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is the race the team has been working toward since the green flag dropped on the 2012 season 25 races ago at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
This is the last race before the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set. And this is the No. 39 Quicken Loans Racing team’s last chance to lock itself into one of the two wild-card spots for the 10-race Chase.
For Newman & Company, the task is this: Win and you’re in.
Race-ending accidents at the last two races at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway led to finishes of 36th and 35th, respectively, for Newman. Consequently, his chances of earning his third Chase berth in the last four years took a big hit.
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 holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Kyle Busch remains in the 12th-place wild-card spot this week by virtue of his victory April 28 at Richmond, combined with his 12th-place position in the point standings, which is higher than fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Newman and Joey Logano.
While Richmond has been a good racetrack for Newman, the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran knows it’s going to take more than just a good performance to earn a coveted spot in the Chase. Only a victory matters.
Newman has one win (September 2003) and one pole, five top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 21 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. In seven starts for SHR at the .75-mile oval, Newman has four top-10s and he has never finished worse than 20th.
With the stakes higher than they’ve been all season, it makes sense for Newman and the No. 39 team to take a tip from Detroit-based sponsor Quicken Loans by ignoring the noise that surrounds them. “Ignore the noise” is a saying Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender, uses to keep its team members focused on providing the best and most efficient service to its clients.
As Quicken Loans explains it, “distractions may be all around you, but your determination to press on in spite of it (ignore it!) will make all the difference.” Ignoring the noise could be the best advice the No. 39 team gets all weekend.
Should Newman be able to vault himself from outside the top-12 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 playoff contention in September 2005 heading to Richmond, but grabbed one of the coveted Chase spots with a solid 12th-place finish.
Knowing it’s going to take nothing short of a win to make the Chase this time around, 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.
Racing under the lights of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Eric McClure matched his best starting position at the 1.5-mile speedway of 30th and battled back from a mid-race accident to finish the NRA American Warrior 300 as follows:
21st-Eric McClure, No. 14 Hefty®/Reynolds Wrap® Toyota
- Surviving two quick cautions, on lap three and 10 of the 195-lap event, McClure advanced to the 25th position by lap 15.
- Reporting that the car was loose on exit, McClure slid back to the 27th position before his routine green flag pit stop on lap 44. Although the team was scored in the 31st position upon returning to the track, they were able to regain the 25th spot after all cars had received service.
- Still battling a loose-handling car, a caution on lap 64 for a two-car incident allowed McClure to return to pit road where the Wes Ward-led crew changed tires, added a spring rubber, and topped-off the fuel cell. Following the service, the Hefty®/Reynolds Wrap® Racing™ team was scored in the 22nd position when the race resumed on lap 72.
- When the event’s fourth caution flag waved on lap 81, McClure was in position to take the “wave around”, but he reported that his oil temperature had risen to 300 degrees, while the water temperature was holding steady at 245 degrees. Unsure if it was a result of a faulty gauge or potential problem, and not wanting to cause damage to the engine, McClure forfeited the “wave around” opportunity and came down pit road so the team could remove tape from the front grille and add fuel to the orange and blue Camry. As a result, he lost two positions in the running order and the chance to advance several positions when the race resumed on lap 86.
- Nevertheless, the team continued to fight hard and was able to maintain the position over the next 30 laps. Unfortunately, on lap 118, the No. 14 machine made contact with the wall off of turn two, bringing out the caution. Limping around the apron of the 1.5-mile track, McClure finally made it to pit road where the crew quickly went to work repairing the minimal right-side damage. Once repaired, the car was sent back on the track in the 25th position for the lap 126 restart.
- Although the car was out of alignment and a handful to drive, according to the 33-year-old driver, the team was able to advance four positions in the remaining laps to post the driver’s best finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Eric McClure Quotes:
“We had a respectable car tonight and I was running the best I have ever run at Atlanta (Motor Speedway). We had a top 20 car, but we couldn’t take the wave around when everyone else did because our engine was running hot. That put us on a lap with only a couple of cars rather than nine. It was still going to work out until we hit the wall. We had to spend an extended period of time on pit road fixing the damage, and I lost a lot of laps after that because we weren’t up to speed. But the guys were awesome and we were able to salvage a decent finish.”
TriStar Motorsports PR
Marcos Ambrose has one more chance to make his way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup via the wild-card bid this weekend. Ambrose needs a victory on Saturday night if he wants to keep his Chase hopes alive and that is exactly what he and the Mac Tools crew are looking for at Richmond International Raceway.
If Ambrose were to win he would be mathematically eligible for the second wild-card sport in the Chase. Ambrose is vying for a second win this with Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman. If Ambrose does not win he would be eligible if Tony Stewart remains in the top 10 or if Kasey Kahne supplants Stewart in the top 10 and Ambrose finishes 41 points ahead of Busch and 29 points ahead of Gordon. Kahne is the only driver with two wins, guaranteeing him the first wild-card spot.
Ambrose will make his eighth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Richmond International Raceway. The Australian native has two top-10 finishes at Richmond. His best finish (fifth) and his best start (13th) came in 2010. He has completed 2,795 of 2,800 laps attempted at the Virginia track. Ambrose enters this weekend's 300-mile race in 16th place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings.
Ambrose's car will have a different look this weekend as Mac Tools will return as the primary partner of the No. 9 Ford Fusion.
Marcos Ambrose's Thoughts on Racing at Richmond: "We had a rough weekend in Atlanta and we can't let that get us down. We've got to stay on your game and keep moving forward. This weekend's race at Richmond is huge for us, and we have a lot at stake. We have ourselves in a position to make the Chase if we can pull off a win this weekend, and we really have to deliver on that. You never know what's around the corner, but we are hoping this weekend it's a trip to Victory Lane in our Mac Tools Ford."
Comments from Crew Chief Todd Parrott on Going to Richmond: "Our No.1 goal this weekend is to go out and win. Anything less isn't going to be acceptable when we are trying to get a wild-card position in the Chase. This is our last chance to make it in, and we are going to do everything in our power to do so. The entire team has worked really hard to give Marcos a fast Mac Tools Ford at Richmond. We are just going to have to wait and see how everything plays out this weekend.
"We didn't run all that well at Richmond in the spring race this year, but I feel like we have learned a few things on the short tracks that will help our performance this weekend. I'm going into Richmond with positive thoughts.
"We're going to need to have a good setup in the Mac Tools Ford this weekend, one that gets into the corner without getting loose in and turns in the middle well with good drive off the corner. The biggest challenge at Richmond is fighting a car that is loose in, tight in the center and loose off. We're just going to have to work on having a car that is very balanced this weekend."
Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team head to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway this week ready to get back to the short track. The team has three top-15 finishes at tracks of one-mile or shorter in 2012 and is eager to put on a strong performance once again at the ¾-mile oval.
Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 will mark the return of the blue and black paint scheme of Smithfield Foods, whose Smithfield, Va., headquarters are just a 90-minute drive from Richmond. Almirola and the team will welcome guests from their primary sponsor for the always action-packed night race, which will be the final race for Sprint Cup Series drivers to qualify for the "Chase," the series' playoffs.
Almirola has just one Sprint Cup start under his belt at Richmond - a 26th-place finish earlier this season. But he's turned plenty of laps on the D-shaped oval, with five Nationwide Series starts to his credit. In those five races, he earned one top-10 and three top-15 finishes.
Comments from Smithfield Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola:
"Smithfield has been such a great partner to our race team this year. It will be nice to go to their home track and hang out with them as a race 'family.' They've done a lot of great things with us this year and for me personally so we're going to work hard to put a strong Smithfield Ford on the track Saturday night.
"Richmond is a fun track. It's faster than most short tracks, so it's not quite the same style of racing as a Bristol or a Martinsville. And we had a fast car when we were there in April. We qualified 11th and ran in the top 10 and top 15, and then a late pit stop kind of shuffled us toward the back. I think we can definitely go back there and run up front again."
Comments from Crew Chief Mike Ford on Richmond:
"Richmond is different from other tracks in that it combines high speeds with what people typically think of with short-track racing. So you've got to have good aero and horsepower, but you've also got to make sure your car can get through those turns well and have good drive off the corners.
"Aric has experience at Richmond, but only one race in a Cup car and that was earlier this season. We're going back with that same car, which he qualified pretty well and had decent speed in. I wasn't with the team for that race, but we have a lot of good notes to work off of. We'll look to unload in pretty good shape and get it ready to qualify Friday and race Saturday."