Biffle’s mission tonight at Richmond: Survive and make the Chase

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Officially, two Chase spots will be up for grabs tonight in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway.

But it would take something big to keep Ryan Newman (+42 points over 16th) from entering the post-season; he needs a finish of 18th or better tonight, and that’s definitely doable for him and his No. 31 Richard Childress Racing bunch.

Which leaves Greg Biffle, the 16th-place driver on the Chase Grid, fighting for his post-season life.

To repeat his scenario in case you may have forgot: Biffle – who starts 17th this evening – can make the Chase by finishing 22nd or better if a repeat 2014 winner, winless Chaser Matt Kenseth, or Newman wins tonight’s race.

But if there is a new winner that isn’t Kenseth or Newman, Biffle must then outpoint Newman by 19 points and beat both Clint Bowyer (17th; -23 points behind Biffle) and Kyle Larson (18th; -24 points behind Biffle).

With 15 other drivers that can only go into the Chase with a win, the Federated Auto Parts 400 is sure to feature aggressive racing through the field. Biffle expects things to be hectic as he works to maintain his position on the Chase Grid for one more race.

“All those guys – the 1 [Jamie McMurray], the 42 [Larson], the 15 [Bowyer] and 27 [Paul Menard] – will all be trying and that is their last lunge for life to get in,” Biffle said yesterday. “Whether it is staying out and taking two tires or whatever, getting up there and blocking or running a guy out of the groove, they will do whatever they can to win to get into the Chase.

“We hope it is uneventful and one of the guys that have won already wins [the race], but I know that it is going to be dicey up front with those [winless] guys trying to get their win.

“The thing about it…It is a tough scenario for us to play. In one aspect, we don’t need to win to get in, but in the other aspect we do need to win to get in if one of those guys wins.”

Richmond has become one of Biffle’s tougher tracks. His ninth place finish in the September 2012 race there is his only Top-10 at RIR since 2006.

At the same time, Biffle has been humming along with five consecutive Top-10 finishes – a streak that has effectively forced Bowyer and Larson, the two guys behind him in the Chase standings, to consider Richmond as a must-win.

The turnaround has come at the right time for Biffle, and that has him believing he will be one of the final two drivers in the Chase after tonight.

“We’ve got a good car, probably the best car I have had in the last two or three years here which is a great confidence builder for us,” Biffle said. “We need to have a good solid night. I think we are capable of that…

“…We know what we have to do and we have a good car so far and we will keep our head up, pay attention and have a good night.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.