CONCORD, N.C. – The regular season all comes down to Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.
The 16-driver playoff field for 2017 is narrowing, and with just a few spots remaining, it could make for an eventful race.
Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne are two of the 13 drivers to have already won at least one race this season, securing their positions in the postseason.
Johnson’s three wins have him currently seeded third in the playoff standings, and he is the only driver who has made NASCAR’s playoff system every year since its inception.
"Richmond is always exciting for the fans,” Johnson said. “It will be interesting to see who makes it into the playoffs – there are a few scenarios that have to play out. A lot of guys are racing for their seasons this weekend, so there is a lot on the line for some. I'm ready to get these next 10 weeks going and chase our eighth championship.”
Meanwhile, Kahne’s Brickyard 400 win launched him into the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when his thrilling late-season win at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the catalyst.
“It will be an intense night because it’s the last chance for a lot of drivers to lock themselves into the playoffs,” Kahne said. “Fortunately, we are locked in and we’ll focus on getting the best result we can.”
Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be among the drivers looking to lock up their playoff spots this Saturday.
With 13 race-winners already taking up the first 13 seeds in the playoffs, Elliott is currently in 14th as the highest-ranked driver without a win this season.
This weekend at Richmond, he can secure his place in the postseason with a win. But even if he does not take the No. 24 Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS to Victory Lane, he would clinch on points – regardless of finish – if there is a repeat winner.
If there is a new winner this weekend, Elliott would guarantee his spot by earning 53 points.
It would mark his second trip to the playoffs in as many full-time seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It would be great,” Elliott said. “Getting in is one thing, but doing something when you get in, if you get in, is another thing. And you want to be able to do something if you can get in. We need to continue to run like we have been running these past couple of weeks to have a chance to continue forward if we are lucky enough to make it.”
In four career Cup Series races at Richmond, Elliott has finished in the top 20 three times, but he has yet to earn a top-10 finish at the Virginia track.
For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the scenario is simpler – win, and he’s in.
A trip to Victory Lane Saturday at Richmond is the only way the No. 88 team can race its way into this year’s playoffs.
Earnhardt has accomplished that feat multiple times at Richmond, as he has three wins there in his Cup Series career to go with 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-10s.
His last Richmond win came in 2006, and his best recent finish was a fifth-place result in this race in 2015.
“Richmond is a track that I’ve had a lot of success at, though not so much recently,” Earnhardt said. “It’s really hard to get a hold of and hard to figure out exactly what line we’re running and where you need to put your car to get it to work. It’s been a bit of a challenge for us over the last couple of trips, but it should still be a fun race.”
Saturday’s race is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.