For a race that has been around since 1958, it is a damn shame that it does not carry the proper branding to link it over the decades to the time it was claimed by the likes of Speedy Thompson, Cotton Owens, and Joe Weatherly. Let us properly honor it and refer to this Saturday night’s contest in Richmond, Virginia as the Federated Auto Parts Capital City 400.
It is a race that was won by Hall of Famer Richard Petty seven times. Five times it went to Hall of Famer Bobby Allison. Four-time winners included Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace. The winner of three Capital City events, looking to join the legends on Saturday, is Denny Hamlin. This race has history. It has pedigree. It should mean something.
Unlike Hamlin’s win last weekend, which means about as much as Joey Logano’s spring win at Richmond. Failure to pass post-race inspection means that Darlington win has been encumbered. Unlike Logano, Hamlin already has a win in the bank, so it matters little. Nice trophy, though.
For the final time, this race is the last chance for those not yet in the Chase to make their mark. That distinction goes to the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis next season. The instructions to each and every driver is a simple one. Win it. It is the last shot for young guns Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez to make it this season. Veterans Clint Bowyer and Logano are in the same boat. At least Logano’s encumbered win came at Richmond in the spring, so maybe there lies some hope. It is the last opportunity in his career for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Winning Saturday night will be everything. With those loose lug nuts biting him at Darlington, Travis Mack sits in for the suspended Greg Ives as Junior’s crew chief this weekend.
For some, it is also another chance to do something memorable, to interest sponsors to keep them in a decent seat for next season. Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne both have wins, but they need to convince somebody to lay out the big bucks to see their hands on the wheel of a fast car in 2018. Matt Kenseth might make the Chase, but he needs a place to land when it is over. Danica Patrick is said to need some help. Maybe a lot of help. A win would be great for them all, but time is also winding down to turn heads.
Geico signed on for more years with Ty Dillon, but I got to tell you, those sponsors can be pretty touchy. Just ask Suarez. He hands out some donuts on a tv segment and his Subway sponsorship disappears. Donuts compete with Subway as a breakfast menu item? Hell, I didn’t even know I could eat donuts for breakfast. I do now. Mom lied to me. Maybe I will have me a donut on my way to Quiznos.
As long as no one currently winless upsets the apple cart, the top sixteen among our Hot 20 head to the Chase. However, just three points separate Chase Elliott, Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray. If a first-time winner comes along this weekend, one of those three would wind up losing their game of musical chairs.
With NBC’s analyst Rutledge Wood driving the honorary pace car, expect the first crash of the night to take place prior to the opening lap.
1. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 4 WINS (1000 Pts)
When they reset the points after Richmond, he will remain firmly atop the leader board.
2. KYLE LARSON – 3 WINS (884 Pts)
Was running with an Outlaw gang last weekend…and so were his parents.
3. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 3 WINS (653 Pts)
When will Jimmie return from vacation?
4. KYLE BUSCH – 2 WINS (893 Pts)
Running a distant second in playoff points.
5. DENNY HAMLIN – 2 WINS (785 Pts)
It might be a NASCAR secret, but a win at Richmond and Hamlin drives with the legends.
6. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 2 WINS (761 Pts)
Tried to look like Rusty last weekend, wound up looking more like Harpo.
7. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 2 WINS (536 Pts)
When you get a bank for a sponsor and scream their slogan in victory, they come back for more.
8. KEVIN HARVICK – 1 WIN (867 Pts)
Had the pole and a Top Ten at Darlington, but things have been pretty relaxing since Sonoma.
9. RYAN BLANEY – 1 WIN (629 Pts)
Less pressure being the son of Dave, than it was for being the son of Richard, Bobby, and Dale.
10. KURT BUSCH – 1 WIN (624 Pts)
No trips to Victory Lane since the Daytona 500 and he has some hearts to win and cash to entice.
11. RYAN NEWMAN – 1 WIN (604 Pts)
Childress has two drivers in the Chase…but for how long?
12. AUSTIN DILLON – 1 WIN (473 Pts)
Sometimes a win means a lot…
13. KASEY KAHNE – 1 WIN (464 Pts)
Sometimes a win does not mean enough.
14. CHASE ELLIOTT – 737 POINTS
Seventh best in points, but seven who have done less have a victory or two or three to their names.
15. MATT KENSETH – 735 POINTS
What is the case for Chase, the same goes for Matt…and Jamie.
16. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 734 POINTS
Does not have to win, but he should be encouraged to at least beat Chase and Matt to the line.
17. CLINT BOWYER – 643 POINTS
If the minimum Chase eligibility was tagged at 500 points, life would have been so much easier.
18. ERIK JONES – 611 POINTS
Five straight Top Tens, but needs a Top One this weekend.
19. JOEY LOGANO – 605 POINTS (1 Win)
Won at Richmond in the spring. Maybe a win in the fall might actually mean something.
20. DANIEL SUAREZ – 538 POINTS
A win and he is in. Same goes for the ten drivers behind him.