Last Race Before Championship Begins – NASCAR Preview
Moon here with Blake Smith's review of the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Ever since the season-opening, Daytona 500 fans have heard drivers and teams talk about the “Chase for the Championship.” After 25 races, the touring series will make their 26th and final stop of the regular season, Saturday night in Richmond, Va. At the conclusion of Saturday night’s 400 miles, the field of 12 drivers will be set to battle for the cup.
Before we preview Saturday night’s race and the Chase, it has been a busy week for announcements in the Sprint Cup Garage. Last Friday, it was announced that Martin Truex, Jr. has re-upped with Michael Waltrip Racing and Napa Auto Parts for a 3-year contract extension. It was also revealed last week in Atlanta that Tony Stewart’s #14 team primary sponsor, Office Depot would not be returning in 2013. Office Depot served as primary sponsor for Stewart in 22 races out of 38 this season. On Thursday, Ryan Newman told media that he had renewed his contract for 2013 with Stewart-Haas racing, despite taking a pay cut. "I think in general everybody out there right now has taken a pay cut," Newman told the Associated Press. "No different than the cost of a seat in the grandstands is down. It all correlates." Newman said he isn't aware of any signed sponsors for next season on his #39 Chevy. "I feel fairly confident that we'll have good branding on the car," he said. "I can't sit here and say exactly who it is going to be and how it's going to lay out and what race they're going to be at. I can tell you this for sure - it's going to be multiple sponsorships."
Two of the main announcements this week involve driver and team pairings for the 2013 season. As speculated, Matt Kenseth has joined Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Joey Logano in the #20 The Home Depot Toyota. "We are thrilled to be able to officially announce Matt will join Joe Gibbs Racing starting at the conclusion of this season," said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. "Everyone knows what he has accomplished in our sport as a champion and a consistent winner. He is well respected in the garage and his experience and knowledge will be extremely beneficial to our entire organization, especially Denny and Kyle."
On the same afternoon, an announcement was made at Penske Racing announcing Joey Logano as driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion beginning in the 2013 season. "Joey Logano is a very talented driver who has already achieved a lot of success at a young age," said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing. "Joey is a great fit for our organization and we look forward to building on his success as he takes his place behind the wheel of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford."
There are 45 drivers entered for this weekend’s Federated Auto Parts 400. The field includes Ken Schrader, who will be making his 750th start this weekend driving Frank Stoddard’s #32 Ford. A new team will be making their first Sprint Cup attempt this weekend. The #0 Blue Ox Toyota will attempt to make Saturday’s race with Owensboro’s Mark Green behind the wheel. Qualifying is scheduled for this (Friday) evening.
After last Sunday’s race in Atlanta, 9 drivers have secured their spot in this year’s “Chase for the Championship.” Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. Tony Stewart, currently 10th, has clinched at least a Wild Card spot. There are six drivers in the top-20 in points with one win. Those drivers are Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. If one of those one-win drivers wins at Richmond and Stewart remains in the top 10 (or Kasey Kahne knocks Stewart out of the top 10), that one-win driver would have two wins, and clinch a Chase spot.
At a track where tempers flare, drivers involved in the battle for a Chase spot will have to remember the big picture and not put themselves in a position that could be detrimental for the entire season. During Friday’s two practice sessions, teams will work on getting their car to “roll through center of the corner.” Drivers will have to manage their brakes for the entire 400 miles on Saturday night to be able to contend for the win.
Tune into Saturday night’s coverage beginning at 5:30 PM on WBKR and WBKR.com. Also be sure to tune into a complete review and wrap up of the race on Tuesday with Eli Gold at 6pm and on “RaceTalk” with Malcolm West at 7pm, also on WBKR and WBKR.com.
- Blake Smith