RICHMOND, Va. – It will be a tale of two races this weekend at Richmond International Raceway for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. For Earnhardt, the Saturday night short track showdown is all about securing a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, while Kahne, a virtual Wild Card lock, has the ability to improve his postseason position.
Fans can tune in to watch the 400-lap regular-season NASCAR Sprint Cup finale at 7:30 p.m. ET this Saturday on ABC/MRN.
Fresh off a two-day Hendrick Motorsports test at the .75-mile short track, Earnhardt enters Saturday night’s contest ranked seventh in the driver standings, and he holds a 37-point advantage over the 11th-place driver. Despite his lead, Earnhardt is on the bubble with one race remaining until the postseason field is set. He can clinch this weekend if he accomplishes one of the following: a finish of 32nd or better; a finish of 33rd with at least one lap led; or a finish of 34th with the most laps led.
“The confidence is there, but the stress is there, too,” said Earnhardt, who will drive the No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS on Saturday.
Earnhardt has a sizeable cushion over 11th-place in the championship standings and a good track record at the .75-mile oval. In 28 career starts at Richmond, Earnhardt has amassed three victories, nine top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He started from the pole position in this race last year and finished 14th.
But Richmond can be unpredictable. Since the inception of the Chase in 2004, this race has averaged 9.89 cautions per event and has seen an average of 4.78 Chase contenders finish off of the lead lap. Additionally, an average of 3.33 contenders have been collected in an incident of some kind. Despite this, Earnhardt feels he controls his own destiny.
“You control your destiny every week, whether it's a short track, mile-and-a-half,” Earnhardt said during Thursday’s Wild Card contenders press conference in Richmond. “We're all good enough drivers you're not in a whole lot of danger out there. You just have to drive a smart race, use your head, drive against people with respect. “
While Earnhardt will attempt to establish himself this weekend, teammate Kahne will focus on gaining momentum for Chicagoland Speedway, the first race of the 10-race playoff. Kahne already has clinched his spot in the 2013 Chase by virtue of the Wild Card. The Wild Card, established in 2011, awards the two drivers with the most victories in the regular season not in the top 10 in the championship standings a place in the Chase. Kahne, who ranks 12th in the standings, currently holds one of these two Wild Card positions based on his victories this year at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.
By clinching at least a Wild Card, the driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS has now qualified for the Chase in two consecutive seasons, a career first for the driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS. Knowing they will be racing for the 2013 championship, Kahne and his team can focus on going after the victory this weekend at Richmond.
“As a team if you can win (at Richmond) and you’re in that Chase I feel like the momentum and the confidence that it brings right before the Chase starts is really good,” Kahne said. “I think that can really go a long ways once the Chase starts.”