Starting Saturday night in Daytona there will be just 10 races left before the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off in Chicago. Over that time the phrase “Road to Richmond” will be heard throughout as Richmond International Raceway promotes the last race to get into the Chase.
[media-credit id=22 align=”alignright” width=”219″][/media-credit]“’The Road to Richmond’ is a great opportunity for us to remind race fans that Richmond hosts the ‘One Last Race to Make The Chase’ and to promote the new Chase format,” said Richmond’s president Doug Fritz. “And the fact that everything that happens from Daytona on leads to what you’ll see at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, September 10.”
Along with Fritz, Virginia native Denny Hamlin spoke about the next few weeks. Hamlin has been in the Chase every year since he began competing in the Cup Series in 2006. He’s currently the only rookie to ever have qualified for the Chase.
This season with NASCAR’s new wildcard format, Hamlin is a believer that not only will the next 10 weeks be important for drivers looking to win but says that race day in Richmond will be fun for the fans to watch. Drivers have already turned the energy and racing level up, with rough racing and paybacks being seen on many occasions already this year.
Richmond is now in prime position to add to that. Saturday night and under the lights, it’s bound to be short track racing at its best and with a lot on the line.
“Hectic” Hamlin said of what the Richmond race will be like. He believes drivers who know they need to either win or race their way in are going to be more aggressive, wanting to hold onto their track position or go for more.
Currently sitting 11th in points with one win, Hamlin doesn’t want to have to fallback on the wildcard position or having to race his way in. In fact, when it was brought up he sat and shook his head no repeatedly. Hamlin’s already done that before and prefers to never to have to experience it again.
Running with only seven cylinders in 2006, Hamlin told his team over the radio that their season was over. Instead they fought their way to a 15th place finish and into the Chase. More, of what could be expected later this season.
Richmond has become known for drivers bumping in and out of the Chase. Jeremy Mayfield won at RIR in 2004 to get in the Chase. Kasey Kahne knocked Tony Stewart out in 2006 and in 2009 it was Brian Vickers would race into the Chase on the last lap and kept Kyle Busch out.
This year though what has the potential to be the big story are the aforementioned wildcard spots. Winning has had an emphasis placed on it when NASCAR announced in the pre-season that only the top 10 will be locked into the Chase with the 11 and 12th place drivers being placed by wins. Drivers who sit 11-20 in points have the chance to get in the Chase if they win a race.
Heading into Daytona there’s only one driver in that position, Tony Stewart in 11th, but there are two others who have wins that are sitting outside the top 20. Both Brad Keselowski and Regan Smith found victory lane early this season but sit 22nd and 28th in points respectively. Their goal going forward is to win as much as they can before Richmond or at Richmond, making the last race to get into the Chase a hot ticket.
“This year’s format has the making of one of, if not the most epic ‘One Last Race to Make The Chase’ events,” Fritz believes. “With the two wild card drivers racing their way in, there could potentially be more drivers than ever having a shot at racing their way into The Chase.”
“The Road to Richmond” goes through Daytona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta before heading to Richmond.
Tickets are still available for the September 10 race. Race fans can purchase tickets through the RIR website, www.rir.com, or by calling 866-455-7223.