The final two Chase Grid spots will be on the line in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
At the front of that battle are the group of four drivers that can still make it on points alone – 15th-place Ryan Newman, 16th-place Greg Biffle, 17th-place Clint Bowyer, and 18th-place Kyle Larson.
But there’s also another group of 15 drivers within the Top 30 in NASCAR Sprint Cup points that can crash the Chase party in the only way they can.
However, out of all those hopefuls, only one driver can enter the Commonwealth of Virginia in charge of his own destiny, and that’s Newman (+42 over the cutoff).
His scenario is simple: Finish 18th or better on Saturday night, and he’s in the show. It bears noting that Newman has earned three Top-10s in his last four starts at Richmond (he finished eighth there in the spring).
For Biffle, Bowyer, and Larson, however, things are a bit more complex.
Should there be a repeat winner, or if winless No. 14 seed Kenseth or Newman win, Biffle clinches with a finish of 22nd or better.
But if there is a new winner that isn’t Kenseth or Newman, then Biffle has to out-point Newman by 19 points and beat both Bowyer and Larson – the latter two drivers having an opportunity if Biffle has a poor run.
Biffle’s record at Richmond has not been strong, as he’s only earned one Top-10 finish there since 2007. However, he’s been on a solid run as of late with Top-10 finishes in the last five races. Something will have to give.
In that race, Bowyer also dumped Larson, the polesitter, on the opening lap. Larson recovered to finish 16th in a solid drive from the back. If he can avoid trouble, he can be a factor on Saturday night.
Then there are those aforementioned 15 drivers who must have a win on Saturday to make the Chase – a group that includes Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, David Gilliland, David Ragan, and Cole Whitt.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.