Fire up the scanner, it is time for Crew Chatter with Speedway Digest writers. This week we tackle Richmond with the question, “With the Chase Grid being set up this weekend at Richmond, who has the stamina and potential to fill the remaining three spots?"
Brett Winningham: The remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup spots will be interesting to follow all evening long in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.You have the young guns of Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott and the series veteran Jamie McMurray in the Chase via points going into the cutoff. Will this stand? I think so. Especially since Ryan Newman was hit with a points penalty after failing post-race inspection on Saturday at Darlington. The only way I see Newman or anyone else getting into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs is if they leave Richmond victorious or one of the three drivers in via points find themselves having a rough night.Another thing to consider is the situation ongoing with Chris Buescher. Buescher, who won the rain shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway, sits 30th in points by only 11 points ahead of David Ragan. A fourth spot to get into the Chase via points could open up if Buescher finds himself into trouble. The Texas native must finish inside the top 30 in points in order to lock himself into the Chase. Though I think Buescher will leave Richmond with a good enough finish to finish the regular season inside the top 30.
Katie Williams: It is really too close to call. I believe performance on pit road will be one if not the biggest keys. Worst-case scenario is that Chris Buescher has a problem and falls out of the top 30 in points, but I don't see that happening. Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon are still after their first win of the whole season so it will be interesting to see whether they go on offense to stay in the top 16 or defense trying to get that first trip to Victory Lane. I think both of them have the stamina to get the job done in either fashion. Jamie McMurray is on the chopping block so he needs to not falter and Ryan Newman is in danger of a penalty and a points deduction after failing post-race laser inspection at Darlington. I try not to go off what drivers did in the previous race at a particular track but Kasey Kahne placed fifth in the spring race at Richmond so he may have a shot to pull off an upset. I feel like Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger have to pull off a win to make it in. I think I'll be watching the NBC ticker more than the actual race.
Davey Segal: Out of the drivers who haven't officially clinched a playoff spot, I think three young guns are capable of doing the most damage. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney. Let's take a glance at all of them heading into Richmond. Elliott: the No. 24 car, and team, have been the most consistent team at Hendrick Motorsports in 2016. If you thought that would be the case before Daytona, I applaud you. I, for one, had Blaney winning the ROY. However, Elliott has dazzled in his first full-time season in Cup. A couple second-place finishes and a handful of top five runs will put him in victory lane sooner rather than later. Perhaps even into the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dillon: the No. 3 car for Richard Childress Racing has also been the most consistent car at RCR this season. Early on, he was knocking on the door for a win. But since then, he has faded back into the mid-teens week after week. With that being said, Slugger Labbe is the right man to lead that team. And with Dillon winning some races in the Xfinity series and now being an engaged man, I think he could be one of the surprises in this season's Chase for the Sprint Cup. Blaney: the No. 21 is basically a Team Penske car, and Blaney has performed like it in 2016. Coming off his career-best fourth-place finish at Michigan, he followed it up with a solid top-20 run at the track Too Tough to Tame. All it takes is one win for a driver and team to get hot. And Ryan Blaney can do just that.
Caleb Whisler: This is the time of the year where mistakes and penalties become costly. We are just one race away from setting probably one of the craziest chases we have seen. We have three distinct storylines coming in: those who are in, those who are on the bubble, and the race to stay within the top-30. I believe that the chase grid we see now in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is set with Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, and Jamie McMurray filling out the remaining three positions on the grid. Ryan Newman had a chance but the only way he can get in now is through a win because of his points penalty following Darlington for failing post-race laser inspection. I was a little hesitant about Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports, but because of more funding from Ford Performance. Barring someone has a major struggle this weekend at Richmond, we are set for a fun and exciting Chase for the Sprint Cup. Consistency will continue to be the major key throughout the next ten weeks. The Chase is on!
Short tracks always get tempers flaring. Matt Kenseth knows that a little too well by now. A few years ago, Jeff Gordon yanked him by the collar at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Now, Kenseth has gotten into trouble with NASCAR's most outspoken driver, Brad Keselowski.
On a night where tires were blowing, flames were soaring out of cars and tempers were flaring like Bugs Bunny against Elmer Fudd - but not in such a humorous fashion, Kenseth and Keselowski started the first of possibly many wars to come.
Kenseth and Keselowski were battling for the lead with a handful of laps remaining during Saturday evening's running of the Toyota Owner's 400 at the Richmond International Raceway. Keselowski went to pass Kenseth, but was seemingly blocked by the driver of the No. 20 Toyota. After racing side-by-side for slightly over a lap, Keselowski went for the lead off of Turn Four, but his car became extremely loose. This lead to Keselowski's teammate, Joey Logano, going under the duo battling for the front spot, and was able to hold onto the lead to win his second race of the year.
"I had a shot at winning the race, and I felt like he ran me up the track," Keselowski said after the race. "You make a move like that when you are going to win the race, not when you are just keeping someone else from winning a race.
Proceeding the "block," Keselowski tapped Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing car multiple times in the closing laps, but nothing too serious. However, once the checkered flag waved, chaos erupted between the two. Even though no fists were thrown like Marcos Ambrose's epic punch which connected with Casey Mears' face, the two have been fighting words - something that might come into play as the season continues.
When the drivers were heading to pit road as the race concluded, Keselowski took his frustration out on Kenseth's car, starting a brand new rivalry. Keselowski got into Kenseth on the cool-down lap, causing a domino effect with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger each hitting Kenseth's rear bumper. Kenseth sits second in the points standings while Keselowski is seventh, but also has a win which should lock him into NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
Now, NASCAR has their newest rivalry. The two have completely different personalities, and it does not appear they want to make amends anytime soon. In the days since the hectic race, the two drivers have hit to social media to do some venting.
Looking back, I needed some time after the race 2 cool off. Funny how much clearer the picture can be when emotion is removed #ijustwannawin— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 27, 2014
The 120th person to RT this that's NOT named Brad, will win my shades from Richmond. #winmattsmojo— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) April 28, 2014
Someone should have told Kenseth fans that the race was during the evening.
Keselowski then Tweeted out this message: "Huge thank you to gargoyles for giving me glasses so great I don't want to give them away," with a picture of his rather nice pair of sunglasses.
Prior to this, Joe Gibbs Racing Tweeted out a picture of Kenseth's damaged car:
@JoeGibbsRacing seems their was a lot of extra work after Daytona 500 practice this year too.— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 28, 2014
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the two drivers act on their budding rivalry. In the midst of a season where ratings have decreased compared to 2013, a rivalry between two championship contenders can certainly bring back some interest into NASCAR.
Kyle Larson will be starting on the pole for this evening's running of the Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond International Raceway. Larson, 21, has never led the field to green in his 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts preceding Saturday's event.
The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver currently sits 15th in points after eight races this season. Even though Larson has a pair of top-five finishes to start off his first full-time season in NASCAR's premier division, he has three finishes of 20th or worse. However, Larson has excelled at tracks which he has driven at before, and Richmond is one of those venues.
In three Nationwide Series races at Richmond, Larson has an average finishing position of 8.7. He also recorded a top-five finish in his lone K&N Pro Series East race at Richmond in 2012. Now, he is on NASCAR's biggest stage, and the pressure is starting to lighten up now that people understand he is capable of racing for wins.
Larson's pole award will not count as an entry into the Sprint Showdown at Daytona to begin the 2015 season next February. However, it will help him earn experience at the front of the pack - racing against some of the sport's top drivers. He already scored his first career Nationwide Series pole award with Turner Scott Motorsports at Bristol a few weeks ago, but starting up front in the Cup Series will put the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender's integrity to the test.
His Ganassi teammate, Jamie McMurray, finished fourth in the last race at Richmond back in September after leading a handful of laps. Besides holding the top speed in practice on Friday morning, Larson had the 10th fastest average of 29 cars that ran 10 consecutive laps during that first practice.