Last week when I posted my pit report I talked about the final wild card spot in the Chase, and the battle that realistically was going to be between two drivers. With one race to go, the duel looked to be between Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, and only one of them would make it into the 12-driver Chase.
The battleground was the Richmond International Raceway, and the battle was delayed initially thanks to rain moving through the Richmond area. In the end, it was a very late night for everyone as rain delayed the race before halfway, and combined with the 9:15 p.m. start time, the race ended well past the midnight hour.
But for those that stayed up to see the checkered flag, which truthfully didn’t include me, it was well worth it.
Initially, it appeared that Busch was going to make the run as he was coming through the field quickly, and heading to the front to lead. Meanwhile, Gordon got his laps led early, but started falling like a rock. His car was not handling to the point where he couldn’t drive it, and eventually fell a lap down.
When the second rain delay came in, which led to a red flag, ESPN caught a quick interview with Gordon as he was heading to the pit box, asking where he needed to improve.
“On the race track right there,” Gordon replied. He declined a radio interview, or the MRN crew played on the side of caution and decided to skip it, because Gordon was not happy. After nearly an hour delay, the race resumed, and for the most part went incident free. Gordon managed to get back on the lead lap, and that was when things began to get interesting.
During the race’s final caution, many of the leaders, Including Gordon, decided to pit and get fuel and tires. Meanwhile, Busch stayed out, hoping that his strategy of pitting later for tires and fuel would get him to the front.
That strategy was sound, but then problems on the pit stop eventually started the real battle. The crew dropped a lug nut on the right-rear tire, making the stop longer than expected. Busch’s stop came at lap 334, and with Gordon not only on the lead lap, but way ahead of Busch, the battle was on to get the top spot.
Seemingly in the last few laps, the final wild card spot was swapping between the two every lap. Gordon was running third, with Busch 17th, meaning Gordon would have the final spot based on positioning. Then Busch makes the pass to advance one position, and now he had the spot.
Gordon then made the pass to get into the runner-up spot, getting the position back.
When the checkered flag fell, thanks to a strong run and one of the biggest comebacks to make the championship field, it was Gordon who would be the 12th man in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. After all the bad luck he experienced all season, with a tumble at Bud Shootout, a blown motor the following week in the Daytona 500, cut tires, spins, wrecks he didn’t cause, and freak accidents, to know he earned the final spot in the Chase was almost a victory.
It certainly feels like it to him because that was how he celebrated.
Now, with the 12-driver field set, the final 10 races will determine this year’s Sprint Cup champion. There are no rookies in this year’s field, but each driver and team has the hunger to win the title.
This week, I will preview the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup with my favorites, dark horses, and long shots to win this year’s title.
RESULTS: 1-Bowyer 2-Gordon 3-Martin 4-Stewart 5-Kenseth 6-Burton 7-Keselowski 8-Newman 9-Biffle 10-Harvick
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Kahne 13-Johnson 14-Earnhardt Jr. 16-Kyle Busch 18-Hamlin
CAUTIONS: 6 for 41 laps. Lap 1-6 (Competition), 47-50 (Competition), 53-56 (#34 accident-FS), 139-155 (Rain [Red Flag-Lap 152, 51 Mins, 45 Secs.]), 236-239 (#15 spin-FS), 277-282 (Rain).
LEAD CHANGES: 17 among 10 drivers. Earnhardt Jr. 1-6, Gordon 7-8, Earnhardt Jr. 9-47, McDowell 48, Earnhardt Jr. 49-58, Hamlin 59-84, Earnhardt Jr. 85-93, Hamlin 94-155, Earnhardt Jr. 156-158, Hamlin 159-231, Johnson 232-233, Hamlin 234-241, Truex Jr. 242-248, Hamlin 249-281, Kahne 282-284, Stewart 285-299, Newman 300-312, Bowyer 313-400.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 59 Mins, 58 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 100.019 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.198 Seconds
2012 CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1-Hamlin, 2012 points; 2. Johnson, -3; 3. Stewart, -3; 4. Keselowski, -3; 5. Biffle, -6; 6. Bowyer, -6; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -9; 8. Kenseth, -9; 9. Harvick, -12; 10. Truex Jr, -12; 11. Kahne, -12; 12. Gordon, -12