And there you have it.
The field is set and we're ready to race for a championship with 12 of the finest that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has to offer. But we'll have plenty of time to look ahead to the Chase later this week. I'm still buzzing on Richmond.
Oh wait, my cell phone was set to vibrate, that's what that buzzing was. Well, anyway, I'm still thinking about Richmond and the race for the last few spots in the Chase. Two topics in particular are tickling my fancy today: Brian Vickers' pit crew and the no-testing rule in NASCAR.
Off the beaten path? That's why you come here.
To be brief, because I'm only renting this keyboard (budget cutbacks), we've seen the 83 team come through huge twice in the past two races. At Atlanta, Vickers broke an axle, the same problem which sent Jimmie Johnson to the garage and caused him to finish 22 laps down. But his crew got the axle changed like he was sitting at a drive-through window. Their motto: Lose a lap and your pizza's free.
At Richmond, the 83 crew fired off a 12.9-second pit stop late in the race, good enough to gain three spots for the 83. The driver did the rest of the work from there, but if he had finished three spots lower, we'd be talking about the clutch performance of Kyle Busch.
As for the no-testing rule, it has done a lot to even the field this season. Even though Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing have been the class of the field, over the nine races heading to the Chase, it's been Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin and Red Bull Racing's Brian Vickers compiling the most points.
Last season, we saw four teams get three entries apiece into the Chase. This year, we'll have eight teams represented among the Chasers, including the first Chase appearances for Red Bull, Stewart-Haas, Richard Petty Motorsports and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
Last year, we had just 12 winners all season long. This season, we've already had 13 different race winners with 10 races remaining in the season. The testing ban did exactly what it was supposed to do, and better competition is always a good thing.
Wealth of Richmond
A very wise man once said
"Want a race pick from your old friend here? Take Hamlin, and hope his bad luck's run out."
You know who said that? Oh yeah, it was me last Thursday trying to give you all a race pick for Saturday night. I could've won you money.
It was easy to pick Hamlin. After all, he's led in all eight of his career races at Richmond, and Saturday was the third time he'd led at least 100 laps in the 400-lap race. Strangely, he had never finished better than 14th in those previous two races due to the aforementioned bad luck.
In the spring 2008 race, Hamlin led a whopping 381 laps, but finished 24th after getting a flat tire. In the spring race earlier this season, Hamlin emerged with a 14th-place finish after leading 148 laps.
But he finally found success Saturday, leading 299 laps in his first win at his home track.
Trivia break: Hamlin and Vickers rank 1-2 in points, respectively, over the last nine races. Who was third?
Short and sweet
Although I picked the race winner, I was a little off in my prediction that Brian Vickers would miss the Chase. Who can blame me? Vickers hadn't finished better than eighth in 30 career races on tracks measuring less than a mile. Let me remind you of the numbers.
Brian Vickers' Cup career on short tracks entering Saturday
Races -- 30
Top-5s -- 0
Top-10s -- 2
Best finish -- Eighth
Avg. finish -- 25.1
Vickers' seventh-place finish at Richmond may not wow you until you put it in perspective. In his 31st career short-track start, it was his best finish and gave him an opportunity to run for the championship. And it did raise his career average finish at short tracks from 25.1 to 24.5.
Trivia break: Who accumulated the most points in short-track races this season?
Missed it by that much
Kyle Busch said that it wasn't the eight points he didn't get at Richmond that cost him a shot at the Chase, and he was right. In an 11-race span in the middle of the "regular season," Busch failed to record a top-5 finish, sending him from fifth to 13th in points.
In the end, it was only eight points, the smallest margin by which a driver has ever missed the Chase. In fact, it was quite a bit less than the amount that drivers missed by in the past couple of seasons.
First driver to miss the Chase and points missed by
Season -- Driver -- Points missed by
2009 -- Kyle Busch -- 8
2008 -- Kasey Kahne -- 69
2007 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 201
2006 -- Tony Stewart -- 16
2005 -- Elliott Sadler -- 66
2004 -- Jamie McMurray -- 15
Trivia break: Busch, McMurray and Stewart represent the three smallest margins by which drivers missed the Chase. Who missed by the fourth-smallest margin?
Trivia Break Answers
1. Tony Stewart, he of the points lead before the rest for the start of the Chase, had the third-most points in the nine races leading to the Chase.
2. Denny Hamlin amassed 991 points on short tracks this season, 90 more than second-place Kyle Busch.
3. In 2004, Kasey Kahne missed the Chase by only 28 points, knocked out by his then-teammate, Jeremy Mayfield.