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Last race before Chase can be tough

September 07, 2008|Mike Harris | Associated Press

The last race of the regular season can be as agonizing for the drivers trying to get in -- or stay in -- the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship as it is fun for the fans to watch.

By the luck of the draw, Richmond International Raceway got the big show when the Chase format was adopted in 2004, thanks to being the 26th race of the season. That has added plenty of spice to the Saturday night event over the past four years.

Kasey Kahne was in a tough spot coming to the Virginia track this week, sitting in 14th place, 48 points behind Clint Bowyer, who was holding down the 12th and final spot in the battle for the 10-race Chase that begins next week in New Hampshire.

In three of the four previous seasons, drivers who were outside the Chase raced their way in at Richmond: Jeremy Mayfield in 2004, Ryan Newman in 2005 and Kahne in 2006.

Gillett Evernham Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler knows just how Kahne was feeling this week.

In 2005, Sadler came to Richmond 13th, 62 points behind Jamie McMurray in 10th place -- then the cutoff for the postseason run -- with Jeff Gordon and Newman between them. Newman sneaked in, while Sadler jumped past Gordon and McMurray, but still wound up 66 points out of the Chase.

"I remember that 2005 season like it happened yesterday," Sadler said earlier this week. "That ought to tell you how much a driver thinks about it, a team thinks about it. Coming in for your last chance (to make the Chase), you've got to hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. It's that kind of mentality that you've got to have.

"My teammate (Kahne) is going through it right now, with being over 40 points out coming into Richmond. Not only is he racing against one guy, but kind of racing against two guys. Not only are you worried about what you're doing the whole night as a driver, and the things that you're trying to take care of, but also the guys that you're racing against."

Sadler recalls that race in 2005 as being one of the toughest he has ever had to deal with.

"Ryan Newman in the (No.) 12 car that night was the guy that I had to outrun, and I think Jamie McMurray in the 42 car," he said. "It's just a tough week. It's a, 'Man, I can't believe we're in this situation. We've got a great chance at making it, but maybe we're not making it.'

"It's just a gut-wrenching week as far as nerves. I understand what these drivers are going through. There's nothing fun about coming to Richmond on the outside looking in, or even on the bubble knowing you have to be mistake-free to make your way to the Chase. But I think that's what's great about the Chase and the reason that I like it so much -- making guys race so hard each and every week."

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Fifty-nine of 104 races at Richmond have been won from the top five starting positions, including 21 from the pole. And nine of the past 10 have been won from the top 10.

But Clint Bowyer, who went into Saturday night on the bubble in the Chase standings, set a record last May by winning from the 31st starting spot.

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