Virtually every winless driver in the top 30 in points is still hoping for a Hail Mary chance to make it into the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup this Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
But the pressure is perhaps the most on Michael Waltrip Racing’s two Cup drivers, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers.
Bowyer had been in the Chase picture up until this past Sunday’s race at Atlanta. Between Kasey Kahne’s win and Bowyer’s 38th-place finish, the latter is now on the outside looking in when it comes to the Chase bubble.
Bowyer enters Richmond 23 points behind Greg Biffle, who is the driver on the bubble for the 16th and final Chase berth.
Bowyer can still make the Chase on points if Biffle has a tough night at Richmond and finishes 24 positions behind Bowyer in the race.
Vickers, meanwhile, is a distant 78 points behind Biffle. The only way Vickers can make the Chase is to win Saturday.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Vickers said in a team media release. “It’s going to be intense, that race, knowing that it’s not just about the guys on the cusp for points, it’s about anyone that can win.
“The intensity is going to kick in. To be honest with you, it’s been there all year. I think that every week you show up, your goal is to win and you do everything you can to try to get that win.”
Perhaps not wanting to jinx his chances, Bowyer isn’t talking about the pressure on him this weekend. But he still has plenty to say about the race itself.
“This is one of my best race tracks,” said Bowyer, who has two wins, three top-5 and nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts at the ¾-mile oval. “Looking back over the years you always have a track that fits your driving style and you’re confidence level is more for some reason and this has always been the case for me.
“We’ve run well in the Nationwide Series, always run well in the Cup Series and I’m always excited to get there. This is a fun racing weekend. The fan base is awesome. Night races are always extra special. I’m looking forward to having another good run. Like I said, this is one of my favorite race tracks. People all across the country ask you where your favorite tracks are and this is first or second on my list.”
But Bowyer and Vickers also return to the track that one year ago was the site of one of NASCAR’s biggest scandals in years.
In last season’s final Chase qualifying race at Richmond, MWR executive vice president/general manager Ty Norris wound up being suspended by NASCAR for an attempt to manipulate the finish to get then-MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase.
The ploy proved extremely costly for the organization, which was fined a NASCAR record $300,000, and also lost long-standing sponsor NAPA, which pulled its sponsorship after the incident.
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