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This Week in Auto Racing Sept. 7 - 9

10:18 PM, Sep 5, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Several drivers have one final shot to make the Chase, as the Sprint Cup Series concludes its regular season this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. The Nationwide Series is also at Richmond. Formula One heads to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Federated Auto Parts 400 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, Va.

With Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway the last chance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, eight drivers are fighting for the last spots available in the playoff field.

Nine drivers have already secured a top-10 position in the Chase, which begins on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson locked down their spots at Bristol, while Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick punched their tickets at Atlanta.

Hamlin clinched at least a tie for the top seed after winning his series-high fourth win of the season at Atlanta.

Tony Stewart, who is currently 10th in the point standings, has at least obtained a wild card position by virtue of his three wins this year. Stewart will grab a top-10 Chase spot if he finishes 14th or better at Richmond, regardless of any other driver's performance there.

Heading into Richmond, Kasey Kahne holds the first wild card position, while Kyle Busch occupies the second and final spot.

Kahne is the only driver outside the top-10 with two wins. He has yet to secure his position in the playoffs, but he will do so if Stewart is 10th or better in points following Richmond. If Stewart were to fall out of the top-10, then Kahne will clinch a spot with a 13th-place finish or better.

Five drivers who are outside the top-10 right now have one win for the season. They are: Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. If any one of those single-win drivers takes the checkered flag at Richmond and Stewart remains in the top-10, or Kahne overtakes Stewart in points, that competitor with his second win grabs a wild card.

Otherwise, it's a mad dash among Busch, Gordon, Ambrose, Newman and Logano for a Chase berth.

"We're going with guns loaded ready to do battle," Gordon said. "This race is always intense, and I expect it to be a pretty crazy night."

Carl Edwards, who finished second in last year's Chase, and Paul Menard are those winless drivers outside the top-10 that have an opportunity to make the Chase with a wild card. Either one of those drivers has to at least win at Richmond to have any chance of qualifying for the 10-race playoffs.

Busch is currently 12 points ahead of Gordon in the wild card standings. After finishing sixth at both Bristol and Atlanta, Busch has moved back into the second wild card spot and therefore boosted his confident of making the Chase.

"I feel okay," Busch said. "I'm not saying I'm for sure going to be in at all. Anything can happen. Jeff is no slouch at Richmond either. He will be fine. I feel like he's the guy we're racing - the 24 car. We'll just have to see how it all plays out. Jeff could give us a run for our money."

Busch won the spring race at Richmond in May. He also claimed victories in the spring event there from 2009-11. Busch has yet to win the fall race at this 0.75-mile racetrack.

"Richmond is definitely a place where we would like to win," he said. "Obviously, that would really make things easy as far as getting us into the Chase. If we're not able to win, then we need to know what our game plan is going to be as far as staying ahead of Jeff."

Gordon can make the Chase if he finishes 13 points ahead of Busch at Richmond. He would also need Stewart to remain in the top-10 or Kahne to advance his point position from 11th to 10th or better.

"I'm not going into the race thinking that we've got to finish 12 positions ahead of Kyle. I'm thinking we have to win," Gordon noted.

Ambrose would have to at least finish 41 points ahead of Busch and 29 ahead of Gordon. Newman simply has to win if he has a shot at making the Chase. If Busch or Gordon were to replace Stewart in the top-10, then Newman is eliminated.

"We've got one chore to do, and that is to go into Richmond and get the win," Newman said. "We've done it before, and we can do it again."

If Edwards were to win at Richmond, which would snap his lengthy 58-race winless streak, he would need Busch to finish 24th or worse and Gordon place no better than 12th.

"We'll go to Richmond and go win that race and somehow maybe a miracle will happen," Edwards said.

Menard must win at Richmond and have Busch finish 24th or worse and Gordon place outside the top-12 in order to qualify for the Chase.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Nationwide Series

Virginia 529 College Savings 250 - Richmond Int'l Raceway - Richmond, Va.

Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are making things really interesting in the Nationwide Series championship battle.

With nine races to go, Sadler holds just a 12-point lead over Stenhouse. Sam Hornish Jr. is 32 points out of the lead, while rookie Austin Dillon trails by 37.

Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide champion, trimmed seven points from Sadler's lead after winning last Saturday's race at Atlanta. The series is now heading to Richmond, where Stenhouse hopes his winning momentum will continue.

"We're coming off a huge win at Atlanta," he said. "Richmond is a fun track to race, because it is the typical short track racing. We have been fast there in the past but have come up short. Hopefully. we can get our first back-to-back win."

Stenhouse has been on a roll lately, finishing no worse than 12th in the last 11 races. Atlanta marked his fourth win of the year, which is two more than he scored during his championship season in 2011.

Sadler has three wins this year, but a victory at Richmond on Friday night would be a very special one for him. It's his home race.

"I say this every year, but there is no place I would rather win than Richmond International Raceway," said Sadler, who hails from nearby Emporia, Va. "It is my home track, and I have so many memories there as a fan and as a driver."

Sadler's best finish in 18 Nationwide races at Richmond is second, which came in May 2005. He has placed sixth in his last two starts there.

Stenhouse has posted three top-five finishes in five Nationwide starts at this 0.75-mile racetrack. He finished third there one year ago and placed fourth in April.

Hornish finished fifth and Dillon ninth at Richmond earlier this year.

Worldwide action sports icon Travis Pastrana made his Nationwide debut at Richmond in the spring. Pastrana drove the No. 99 Toyota for RAB Racing, which formed an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing. He will compete at Richmond this time as driver of the No. 60 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

"We had our best finish at Indy and led our first laps (last) weekend in Atlanta, so I'm excited to get back to Richmond and build on that success and see what I can do behind the wheel of a Roush Fenway Ford," Pastrana said.

Ryan Blaney also made his first Nationwide start in the Richmond spring race. Blaney, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, drove the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet to an impressive seventh-place finish. He is slated to drive the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge. Brad Keselowski has been behind the wheel of the No. 22 car in most Nationwide races this season.

Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. Busch is driving the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He gave KBM its first Nationwide win at Richmond earlier this year.

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.

FORMULA ONE

Italian Grand Prix - Autodromo Nazionale Monza - Monza, Italy

Formula One concludes its European tour this season with Sunday's Italian Grand Prix in Monza. The remaining races on the 2012 F1 calendar include: Singapore, Japan, Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and the United States before Brazil wraps it up.

The Italian GP is also the home race for Ferrari. The team's headquarters are located in Maranello, Italy, which is roughly 125 miles southeast of Monza.

Fernando Alonso from Ferrari enters the 13th of 20 rounds this season with a 24-point lead over two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull. Alonso lost 16 points of his lead after being caught up in a horrifying wreck during the opening lap in last Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

The incident occurred immediately after the start when Romain Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton made tire contact. Hamilton hit the rear of Grosjean, who then sailed over Alonso. Sergio Perez was also involved the crash.

Luckily, there were no injuries, but Alonso was a bit shaken up when he climbed out of his heavily damaged car.

After the Belgian GP concluded, race stewards determined Grosjean was responsible for causing the accident since he attempted to jump ahead of Hamilton at the start. Grosjean was handed a one-race ban and fined $62,503 (50,000 Euros).

"Given the misfortune of having had an accident like this, I am lucky to be able to get back in the car in just a few days," Alonso said. "The level of safety of these cars is very high, and (last Sunday) we saw further proof of that. I am not angry with Grosjean. He definitely didn't do it on purpose. It was a case of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Lotus has scheduled its reserve and test driver, Jerome d'Ambrosio, to replace Grosjean in the Italian GP.

"I understand the circumstances in which the drive has come about, but for me it's a great opportunity and great challenge," D'Ambrosio said. "I first want to thank the team for having faith in me and allowing me to step in the car for this race at Monza. I will do everything I can to do the best possible job."

Since 1950, a Ferrari driver has won the Italian GP 18 times. Alonso most recently did it in his first year with the team in 2010.

"It is indeed a special race for us," Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said. "There is a special feeling for our home race, but the reality is that the number of points on offer are the same as at the other 19 rounds, all around the world. To sum it up, I would like to think we can leave Monza having scored very special points at what is a very special race for us."

Vettel won last year's Italian GP. He started on the pole but gave up the lead to Alonso on the first lap. Shortly after, Vettel came storming back and overtook Alonso for the position.

It was the second time that Vettel had won at Monza. In 2008, he became F1's youngest race winner and pole sitter at age 21. Vettel drove for Toro Rosso in '08 before moving over to Red Bull the following year.

"Monza is the home of motorsports and being there gives me goose bumps," he said. "It has the best podium in the world and a win there is an unforgettable experience. If you stand up there like I did for the first time in 2008, and again last year, you are overwhelmed by the fans. It's just amazing."

Vettel has not won a race since the April 22 Bahrain Grand Prix.

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