Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race was a race that could have helped Richard Childress Racing’s hopes of solidifying one or more of its three drivers into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But as things turned out, RCR made just limited gains. Now the pressure ratchets up much more significantly with just two races left to make the Chase.
Having finished 13th at Bristol, Ryan Newman remained in the Chase hunt, currently ranked ninth in the overall Sprint Cup standings and 14th in the 16-driver preliminary Chase field.
“Looking back, both Luke (crew chief – Lambert) and I think we should have taken four tires on that last pit stop,” Newman said. “Our No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet was just too tight that last run to maintain a top-10 spot.
“Overall, it was a good night for us, especially for our Caterpillar pit crew. They were on top of their game tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I am looking forward now to Atlanta and maybe we can get a win. It would be nice to take some pressure off of ourselves and get in the Chase.”
The driver who made the most upward progress was Paul Menard, who finished ninth in the race and, as a result, climbed two positions in the Cup season standings, from 17th to 15th.
However, because there are five drivers behind him in the rankings that have wins and have already clinched playoff berths (Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin), Menard is in a must-win situation in both Atlanta this coming Sunday and Richmond the following Saturday if he hopes to make the Chase.
“We had a good car today,” said Menard, who earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season at Bristol. “Two tires really changed the handling and were no good for our car so that set us back a little bit. I’m proud of my guys for the way they kept digging.”
Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon had the roughest night of all three RCR drivers, finishing 28th and dropping one spot in the Cup standings (from 13th to 14th).
“Tonight was definitely not the finish we were hoping for, or the way we were expecting the race to go,” Dillon said. “However, sometimes you will have instances like that and you just have to shake it off and move onto the next race.
“… We’re going to give it our all next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway to get a win and make it into the Chase.”
Much like Menard, Dillon – who leads his teammate by five points in the Cup rankings – has to win at Richmond or Atlanta.
Otherwise, he’ll fall short of his goal of making the Chase in his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series.
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