Finally all the talking, analysing and calculating is over and it’s time for the drivers to prove themselves on the track and to work out who wants to make the Chase the most. It is of course time for the second race of the season at Richmond International Raceway and the race that will decide who’s season will continue with a shot at the Championship or who will go back to the shop and refocus on 2014. While the top 7 were virtually all locked in there are potentially still places in the top 10 and two wildcard places up for grabs so how far would drivers go to ensure that they are one of the chosen few.
Friday afternoons qualifying session was a session for the Chase hopefuls and it was Kurt Busch who set the pace to start with, going out fifth under the cover of a big cloud allowing the track to cool slightly meant he equalled the track record speed of 130.334 to go top. But his time there wouldn’t last, as the afternoon started to fade into evening Jeff Gordon showed that he was desperate to make the Chase and set a new track record of 20.674 seconds (130.599 mph). Fellow Chase hopeful, albeit an outside shot, Brad Keselowski also threw his hat into the ring with a third place qualifying run. For Gordon if he wins he will be in the Chase but if he isn’t in a position to do so than he will have to hope someone falls outside the top 10 and he is in a position to take advantage. Brad needs to win and hope a few others have some misfortune and Kurt needs to finish first or second to guarantee a place in the Chase. Of course there are many variations of this and we probably won’t know who’s in until they cross the line.
As the green flag drops Gordon shows that he has lost none of his qualifying speed as he enters turn one in the lead and wastes no time in pulling a gap of a few car lengths over Kurt. The 78 has his own worries though as Keselowski starts harassing the 78 for second. After sitting on the bumper of the 78 for a few laps and trying various moves to get around him eventually Keselowski makes a move on the inside of Kurt and is able to get better traction out of the turn and claim second place. But such is the pace of the 24 the 2 car isn’t making any inroads into Gordon’s lead; but after only 30 laps Gordon starts running across back markers and Keselowski uses this to his advantage to close right up on the 24 car. Things are not looking as good for Kurt as he is reporting he has very little grip and loses third place to Clint Bowyer.
After nearly 20 laps of sitting on the bumper of the 24, Keselowski is finally able to make a move and slides to the inside of Gordon and takes the lead. Kurt also seems to have found a new level of grip as he retakes third and very quickly is also able to get around Gordon to take second who continues to slips further back through the field to 6th. As happened to Gordon it is now Keselowski’s turn to get held up by traffic and Kurt seizes his opportunity to take the lead, but he too is going to have negotiate his way through the traffic. Jamie McMurray has also had a great start moving up from 7th and after a nice move on Keselowski he is up to second. McMurray is also in with an outside shot at making the Chase but he needs to win and hope that the cars around him fail to finish, which isn’t looking very likely at the moment. Further down the field Joey Logano (who started the race in 8th in the standings) has slipped back to 22nd and as it stands would slip out of the top 10 but still claim a wildcard spot meaning that both Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr would miss out on their wildcard spot.