Few surprises at halfway in final Chase qualifier at Richmond; Keselowski in command

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There’s been few surprises at the halfway mark of Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

The final race for drivers to qualify for the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup has not had the road rage-like driving many expected, given the significance of the making the expanded 16-driver Chase.

Thus far, pole-sitter Brad Keselowski has been in command, leading 183 of the first 200 laps. The only other driver who has been at the front of the field is Kevin Harvick, who has led 17 laps.

Keselowski and outside pole-sitter Jeff Gordon started strong, but Gordon eventually yielded to Harvick.

Harvick took the lead from Keselowski on Lap 43 and held on during the competition caution called by NASCAR on Lap 50 of the 400-lap event.

Keselowski had a great pit stop and came back onto the racetrack in the lead as the green flag fell again on Lap 58. He was able to keep Harvick at bay and began to stretch out his margin.

Gordon eventually regained the second spot and was in that position at the halfway mark, with Harvick third.

Clint Bowyer, who has to race his way into the Chase with either a win or strong finish over top rivals Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle, is having one of his best runs thus far of the season, sitting in fourth place at halfway.

Another driver who needs to get in with a win is Jamie McMurray, who is running sixth at the halfway mark.

Other notables include:

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. is up to 10th place.

* Rookie Kyle Larson is running 11th.

* Tony Stewart, who also must win to make the Chase, is running 12th.

* Danica Patrick, who earned her Sprint Cup career-best finish (sixth) last Sunday at Atlanta, is running 16th.

Friday night’s Nationwide Series race winner, Kyle Busch, is running 13th.

Matt Kenseth, who has already clinched a spot in the Chase on points, brushed the wall and had to spend more than 60 laps in the garage while repairs were made, most notably to the suspension, which appeared to suffer the most damage.

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”