Kahne will drive his way into the Chase field

Published 3:44 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

After 25 points races, two non-points events and seven months, it boils down to a short-track Saturday night in Richmond to determine which drivers will round out the Chase for the championship field.

The drivers occupying spots one through five in the standings – Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton – have clinched a spot in the field and will be racing only for a win Saturday night.

Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick, currently sixth and seventh in the standings, will earn a spot as soon as the green flag drops to begin the race. While Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin have not completely clinched a spot, the stars would have to really align for any of these drivers to fall out of the top 12.

Where does that leave us? Three guys will be competing for the final spot in the field. Clint Bowyer currently sits in the 12th and final spot but is ahead of David Ragan by only 17 points and ahead of Kasey Kahne by 48 points.

Both Bowyer and Kahne have previous victories at the three-quarter mile track at Richmond, while Ragan has a top-five in his previous three races. You might think these three drivers would be the most aggressive drivers on the track Saturday night. I would say that the other 40 drivers in the field will be the much more aggressive, and these three will take the cautious route and post a solid finish. The other drivers are competing for nothing but a win – their fate is already sealed, one way or the other.

Kahne has been in this spot before and came from outside the field to make the cut at the end of the night. He is my pick to earn the last spot in the Chase, jumping from the 14th to the 12th spot. But my pick to win the race Saturday night is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He had a chance to win the spring race here but was punted into the wall by Kyle Busch, allowing Bowyer to claim the victory.

Off the track, David Stremme was chosen by Roger Penske to take over the No. 12 ride left vacant by Ryan Newman’s move to become Tony Stewart’s teammate next season. Stremme last competed in the Cup series in the No. 40 Chip Ganassi ride in 2007. Ganassi let Stremme go to make room for Dario Franchitti. This season, Stremme has driven for Rusty Wallace in the Nationwide Series in addition to being a test session driver for Penske.

Speaking of Franchitti, it was announced this week that he was ending his 10-race NASCAR career and returning to the IRL open-wheel series next year. He will be driving the Ganassi Target-sponsored car next season, replacing Scott Wheldon. Remember the huge flux of open wheel drivers last season? Only Sam Hornish remains in the Cup series.

Also, Darian Grubb was named crew chief of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 ride next season. Grubb is moving over from Hendrick Motorsports where he is an engineer. He is best known for filling in for Chad Knaus and helping Jimmie Johnson win the 2006 Daytona 500 after Knaus was booted from the track.

Big weekend of sports coming up. Enjoy the race among all the college and NFL football.