Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rating the Federated Auto Parts 400: 4 Stars ****

The Sprint Cup Series regular season came to a close in dramatic fashion Saturday night and early Sunday morning at Richmond International Raceway. Jeff Gordon snuck through the raindrops to grab the final spot in the Chase in a race that constantly changed complexion. Overall, this race gets a 4 Star Rating.
To accentuate the changing nature of the race, Clint Bowyer won his second race of the season even though he spun down the frontstretch in the second half of the event. He and Juan Pablo Montoya made contact on lap 235. That cut down Bowyer’s left-rear tire and caused his spin.
But that turned out to be a big-time blessing in disguise. The resulting pit stop strategies put Bowyer back near the front of the field for the final 117 laps and he passed Ryan Newman for the lead with 88 laps to go. He didn’t look back, although he did have to manage his fuel mileage to reach the finish line.
While Bowyer led the final run, Gordon made a comeback that deserved to be rewarded with a Chase spot. Gordon’s #24 car was junk in the first half of the race even though he started in second. By the time the red flag came out for rain on lap 152, Gordon was a lap down to then-leader Denny Hamlin and looked to be out of contention for anything. It turns out he was in contention for both a Chase spot and the race win.
Gordon charged through the field in the second half of the race and reached second when the checkered flag flew. Kyle Busch faded to 16th, which meant Gordon had snagged the second wild-card spot by a mere three points.
No matter what type of points system NASCAR uses, the fall race at Richmond almost always produces a wild night of racing both on the track and in the points standings. Those type of races don’t come around very often, but they are sure fun when they do.
Also, pretty much any important race in the last year has had to deal with rain delays. Both Homestead last year and this season’s Daytona 500 were affected by rain, but the racing was great when the weather let them get out on the track. Hopefully that’s just a coincidence and this year’s Homestead race will be fun but without rain.
But before the series gets to Homestead, the 12 Chase drivers will start their battle next week at Chicagoland Speedway. Expectations for a fun and exciting Chase are always extremely high the week leading up to the first race, but this year there are a myriad of contenders.
All of the top drivers have won multiple races. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart are going to be primed for a good next 10 races. Even drivers such as Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who are winless this season, are running well right now and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them bust through with victories in the Chase.
In any case, this should be the best part of what has been a mediocre season in terms of action. There won’t be time for Chase drivers to ride around because they could quickly lose touch with the leaders in the points standings. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the memorable part of the 2012 season.
Have a great week, everybody.

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