RICHMOND, Va. NASCAR trotted out eight drivers Thursday who all are mathematically eligible to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
In reality, Saturday nights regular-season finale is a race between Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon for the final berth in the 12-driver field.
The two wild-card berths both are technically open. But with two wins on the season, Kasey Kahne is in strong shape to lock one of them down. So Busch and Gordon talked as if its just down to them for the last slot.
I think its just Jeff and I, Busch said. Nothing against any of the other guys, but the way past history preserves itself, I think its just Jeff and I.
Busch can clinch a berth by winning the race, or by losing 12 or fewer points to Gordon. It doesnt hurt that Richmond is one of his best tracks.
Hes a four-time winner at Richmond, and his May win here is his only victory this season. Hes got an average finish of 4.7 and has 13 top-10s in 15 career starts. With that track record, he didnt seem too stressed Thursday.
It certainly relieves a little bit of pressure than if (the race) was anywhere else, Busch said. Richmond is a really good race for me, but it is a short track where anything can happen.
Gordon only makes it into the Chase by finishing 13 points ahead of Busch. And, a week after failing to knock Denny Hamlin out of the way at Atlanta for what would have been a crucial victory, Gordon is vowing to do anything needed to make the Chase.
Were going to do whatever it takes to win, whatever that means, Gordon said Thursday.
What it doesnt mean, though, is asking for help. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. already are locked into the Chase, and although Kasey Kahne isnt yet, it would take an epic failure and a litany of other scenarios for him not to claim a wild card.
Gordon wants them to run their own races Saturday night.
Im not going to ask them to do anything for me, he said. It they choose to do anything on their own, thats on them.
At the same time, Gordon said he wont give anyone any breaks, even his teammates. At Atlanta on the final restart, he had a chance to knock Hamlin out of the way and steal a win that would have given him two on the season and put him in prime position to grab the last Chase berth.
Hes been kicking himself ever since, and even wondered if hes getting soft in his later years. It wont happen again Saturday night.
Right now, were going to be treating anybody thats in front of us as if they are the enemy, Gordon said.
Busch understands it could be anything goes in the closing laps Saturday night. His preference is for a quiet race, with a driver already locked into the Chase winning and Busch finishing second. But if hes got to move Gordon for the win, hell do it, and he knows Gordon will do the same to him.
It would be in line with whats on the line, he said.