By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the 20th straight week after Atlanta. He leads second-ranked Clint Bowyer by 28 points and third-ranked Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick by 42 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 23 career starts, 3 wins, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring and summer 2007 and summer 2008. Finished 13th in this race last year and was 12th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson has one last chance to earn his fifth win, which would put him equal with Matt Kenseth, but also give Johnson the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup when the standings are reset. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "We obviously would like to have a good run at Richmond this weekend. We've been a little streaky there but we had a good test with the rest of the Hendrick teams a couple of weeks ago. But honestly, the only thing that will help us with the Chase is a win. We are obviously leading the points but all that goes away and we won't be leading once we get out of Richmond unless we win. I'm proud of the fact that we are the points leader, but you don't get anything for winning the regular season - no extra points, not even a T-shirt or a mug. Seriously, every point counts and we'd like to have this Lowe's team start the Chase as the top seed, but doing that means we have to win this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson had his third straight poor finish: 40th (Michigan), 36th (Bristol) 28th (Atlanta). Unless he wins at Richmond, he'll likely start the Chase in second place when the points are reset.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 94.5 percent (8,703) of the 9,209 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.7 and average finish is 16.3. He has one DNF there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in second place for the eighth consecutive week after Atlanta. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 25 points and leads the third-place tie of Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick by 14 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 15 career starts, 2 wins, 3 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008 and summer 2012. Won this race last year and was runner-up in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer does very well at Richmond. While he won't be in contention to be on top when the Chase points are reset, a strong run - especially a win - would definitely help his cause to start the Chase even higher. Here's his thoughts: "I know the points reset after Richmond and we're going to be chasing after Jimmie, Matt Kenseth and a bunch of other guys again ... but can bet that Brian (Pattie) and I are going to do everything we can to score some bonus points before this thing gets going. We have ... chances to throw caution to the wind and go get some points - and you can bet we're going to take our shots. We won at Richmond last year ... so we are going to take our best pieces and see what we can do to get on the board."
LOOKING BACK: After a sixth-place finish at Watkins Glen and a fifth at Michigan, Bowyer had a terrible finish at Atlanta, ending up 39th. Fortunately, points leader Jimmie Johnson also had a rough night, so Bowyer only saw Johnson regain seven points of his lead in the standings.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 100 percent (6015) of the 6,016 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 13.5 and average finish is an outstanding 9.1. He has zero DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After 10 weeks in fourth place, Kevin Harvick moved into a tie for third with Carl Edwards after Atlanta. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 42 points, is 14 points behind second-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by nine points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 25 career starts, 3 wins, 7 top-fives, 16 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2006, summer 2011 and spring 2013. Was 10th in this race last year and won this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick hopes to gain some bonus points and increase his ranking when the Chase standings are reset after Richmond. A win would be big for him and his team. Here's his thoughts: "This little stretch leading up to the Chase for us is kind of a trial-and-error period as we go to different styles of race tracks and try different things. Obviously, we won the race at Richmond earlier in the year on a crazy restart. We ran ok during the first half of the race and ran fairly good toward the end of the night, and one thing we have learned and try to remember about Richmond is that tires are king at that track. I'm hoping we can repeat the outcome we had there in the spring, but the big thing is making sure we can continue to learn things that will help us in the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick bounced back from a disappointing 34th-place finish at Bristol the week before to end up ninth at Atlanta. He didn't lead any laps, but was able to battle through handling problems for a top-10 finish that also allowed him to climb one spot in the overall season standings.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 98.8 percent (9,892) of the 10,009 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 16.5 and average finish is 11.3. He has zero DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third place for the eighth consecutive week after Atlanta, although he is now tied with Kevin Harvick, who moved up from fourth to a tie for third. Edwards trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 42 points, is 14 points behind second-ranked Clint Bowyer (down from 35 prior to Atlanta) and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by nine points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 18 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in summer 2011. Was 17th in this race last year and was sixth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards barely lost the championship in 2011 on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart, then failed to make the Chase last season. He's locked into it this year, though, and looks forward to Saturday's race at Richmond: "Going into Richmond locked into the Chase is a huge relief for us. I know how stressful that race can be and how stressful it will be for a number of the guys in the field. We've run really well there lately and have really fast race cars so, just like Bristol and Atlanta, we feel like we can go there and have a really good shot at winning the race. I like the race track because it's the perfect mix of high speeds and short track racing; there are multiple grooves, it's really fun to drive on. But the real story is the Chase and who's going to be in it, and it'll be interesting to watch that, Even from the driver seat I think a lot of the drivers and the crews will be watching that race just like the fans to see who gets in."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards led 68 laps and looked like he'd have a strong finish at Atlanta. Unfortunately, he ultimately finished one lap down in 18th place, the second consecutive race where he had a strong outing, only to fall back at the end (led 119 laps at Bristol only to suffer mechanical issues and finish 39th).
ETC.: Edwards has completed 96.9 percent (6,993) of 7,216 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 12.6 and average finish is 14.4. He has one DNF there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch remained in fifth place for the fourth consecutive week after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 51 (down from 82 the week before), is nine points behind the third-place tie of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards and leads sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 18 points (up from three points prior to Atlanta).
RICHMOND RECORD: 17 career starts, 4 wins, 12 top-fives, 13 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009, spring 2010, spring 2011 and spring 2012. Finished 16th in this race last year and was 24th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is locked into the Chase and coming off a win at Atlanta, could double-up at Richmond, which has been one of his best tracks. Here's his thoughts on the final pre-Chase race Saturday night: "I think our team has done well this year. I think our qualifying has been a real strong suit. Other than my screw-up at Bristol a few weeks ago, I feel like our cars have been good. They've been fast and we've had decent runs throughout races and sometimes we got behind on adjustments, which was probably our weakest point - just making sure we make the right adjustments through the race. Now, we proved we could do that at Atlanta last weekend, which was really encouraging. You can't be scared to come back on an adjustment if you make a mistake on something. We've done that a few times this year, where we've gone back and it's worked for us. You have to have a little luck on your side, you have to have some execution and you have to be able to put your car in the right place."
LOOKING BACK: Busch had an outstanding race at Atlanta, leading 36 laps, including the most important last lap to win there.
ETC.: Busch has completed 100 percent (6,815) of the 6,816 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 12.4, while his average finish is an outstanding 6.5. He has zero DNFs there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth remained in sixth place for the third consecutive week after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 69 points (down from 85 last week), is 18 points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 18 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2002. Finished fifth in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth could be the No. 1 seed when the Chase points are reset after Richmond if Jimmie Johnson doesn't win. That's why Kenseth comes into Richmond with nothing else in mind but to win his sixth race, thus assuring him of the top spot heading into the Chase: "I feel pretty confident right now. I feel like we have a really good race team. Right now, we're really on top of our game on pit road and with car prep and the rest of the stuff. I feel good about all that, but you have to perform each and every week once you get there. The wins are great -- obviously as long as we make the top-10 that seeds us up toward the top. We should be at least a tie or hopefully ahead. That is good. You have to put together 10 strong, solid weeks for sure."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had a decent car but not one likely capable of winning. Still, he wound up with a respectable 12th place finish at Atlanta.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.7 percent (10,564) of the 10,809 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 20.8, while his average finish is 16.2. He has one DNF there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in seventh place for the third consecutive week after Atlanta. He trails teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson by 87 points (down from 107 the week before), is 18 points behind sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads eighth-ranked Joey Logano by 21 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 28 career starts, 3 wins, 9 top-fives, 12 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 2000, spring 2004, spring 2006. Finished 14th in this race last year (after earning the pole) and was 10th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Richmond has been very good to Earnhardt over the years. He needs a big boost going into the Chase and a win - his first since June 2012 - would be the best way to do so. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "It will be good to go to Richmond with a really nice cushion on the guys behind us. We tested at Richmond so hopefully that's going to pay off for us. I'm ready to make the Chase and get to Chicago."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had another strong, consistent run at Atlanta. While he didn't lead a lap, he finished a strong eighth.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 99.1 percent (11,113) of the 11,209 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 16.0, while his average finish is 13.8. He has one DNF there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano continued his outstanding climb upwards in the standings in the last three races. After moving from 16th to 13th after Michigan, Logano rose three more places after Bristol to 10th place, and climbed two more places to eighth after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 108 points (down from 136 last week), is 21 points behind seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads ninth-ranked Greg Biffle by two points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: 3rd in spring 2013. Finished 30th in this race last year and finished third in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano is on the verge of making his first-ever Chase. He just needs to stay focused and steady and hope for good luck at Richmond. Unfortunately, he hasn't had the greatest of overall records there, but he does come into Saturday knowing he finished third there in the spring. Here's his thoughts on Richmond: "It's something I've been saying and I will continue saying - we are not going to look at doing anything different this weekend then we have been doing the last several weeks. We are going to go out there and try and win the race or get the best possible finish we can. But I'd be lying if I said we also weren't going to be paying attention to the competition. But we are not points racing just to get in - we are going to race hard and do what we've been doing all year. We get ourselves a good finish and we will lock ourselves into the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: Logano had an outstanding run at Atlanta, leading 78 laps before Kyle Busch passed him late in the race. Still, Logano has nothing to feel ashamed about for finishing second in the race.
ETC.: Logano has completed 96.9 percent (3,496) of the 3,606 total laps contested in nine career starts at Richmond. His average start is 14.1 and average finish is 17.3. He has one DNF there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle remained in ninth place in the standings for the second straight week after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 110 points (down from 123 last week and 181 points three weeks ago), is two points behind eighth-ranked Joey Logano and leads 10th-ranked Kurt Busch by eight points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 22 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2005. Finished ninth in this race last year and was a disappointing 36th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle knows he's on the bubble and anything can happen Saturday at Richmond. He's preparing for the best and hoping not for the worst: "I'm looking forward to Richmond, we ran well there in the spring and it's always been a pretty fair track for us. Looking to get into the Chase, we really need a top-15 finish, need to stay out of trouble and try to stay up front. We are really excited about making the Chase and making a run at the title."
LOOKING BACK: After a pair of back-to-back ninth-place finishes at Michigan and Bristol, Biffle slipped slightly to finish 15th at Atlanta.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 97.4 percent (8,579) of the 8,809 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 18.7 and average finish is 17.2. He has one DNF there.
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kurt Busch climbed back into the top-10 after a strong run at Atlanta, going from 12th to 10th. Busch trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 118 points, is eight points behind ninth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads 11th-ranked Jeff Gordon by six points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2005. Finished 28th in this race last year and was ninth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch and Furniture Row Racing are in position to make Chase history: being the first single-car team to ever make the Chase. Busch knows how much is at stake Saturday, but is ready to cast his lot and hope for the best: "We're in position to make history and that's pretty exciting for everyone associated with Furniture Row Racing. It's been our goal from the beginning of the year to make the Chase and we enter the final pre-Chase race controlling our own destiny. We need to get it done on our own Saturday night and not worry about what the other Chase contenders are doing."? LOOKING BACK: Busch had the highest-finishing Chevrolet at Atlanta, winding up a very strong fourth. In so doing, he moved back into Chase contention with one race left to go this Saturday at Richmond.
ETC.: Busch has completed 97.8 (9,786) of the 10,009 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 20.0, while his average finish is 17.9. He has one DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only six points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Has finished third and second respectively in the last two September events. Overall has two wins and 25 top-10 finishes including 16 top-five's in 41 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: If Gordon wins the Richmond race Saturday night, he will earn a spot in this year's Chase for the Championship. Anything short of a win means he has to finish seven spots in front of 10th-place Kurt Busch or 15 spots in front of ninth-place Greg Biffle to move into the top 10 and clinch a spot in the Chase. "I've said all along that I think (the spots in the Chase) will come to the last lap at Richmond, and we're going to battle all the way to the checkered flag to try and earn one of those spots," said Gordon. "We missed it early (in the race) last year, but we were able to make some good changes and the car came to life (as he rallied to finish second and make the Chase). This year, I'm hoping we'll be strong from the drop of the green flag all the way to the checkered flag. Winning is our goal this weekend - it's what we want to do every weekend."
LOOKING BACK: At one point early in the Atlanta race, Gordon looked as if he had the car to beat as he led twice for 17 laps. But his victory hopes faded as the track changed. Still, he was able to rally in the final 20 laps to finish sixth to stay in the thick of the battle for the final five spots in the Chase for the Championship. "We had an excellent Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS and it just got away from us a little bit," said Gordon. "The track changed quite a bit and we just couldn't battle up front there for the lead and for the win like I thought we could have. Little disappointed in that, but a great effort by the team all weekend long and we will take the momentum of these last two decent finishes, solid runs, and fast cars and take it to Richmond and see what we can do."
ETC.: Gordon and Carl Edwards got into a heated discussion following the Atlanta race last Sunday night. On two different occasions the two talked about the way they raced each other during the 325-lap event. "I have a problem with a guy when I apologize for sliding him and he proceeds to tell me all the things I did wrong in the race," said Gordon. "I didn't hear him apologizing for any of the things that he did. I tried to have a regular conversation and that didn't seem to be possible with him." Added Edwards, "we don't agree on what happened and finally he (Gordon) got frustrated enough with the conversation that he just walked away, which might be smart."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only 10 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots to fall out of the top 10 last week. Has clinched a spot in the Chase for the Championship because of his two wins.
RICHMOND RECORD: One win and seven top-10 finishes in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne is elated that he has clinched a spot in the Chase, but his goals for this weekend haven't changed. "We need to win the race and get back in the top 10," said Kahne. "We won't get any bonus points for our wins unless we are in the top 10. Those bonus points would be a big help (in his quest to win the championship). We really have nothing to lose since we are already in the Chase, so we can gamble if we need or whatever to win the race. That is our only goal."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne's victory aspirations ended early Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway when he was caught up in an accordion-type wreck on lap 29 of the 325-lap event. When teammate Jeff Gordon, running second, had trouble getting going on the restart, everyone behind him in the outside line were forced to slow down. Kahne was on the gas when he plowed into the back of teammate Jimmie Johnson. The damage was severe enough that the crew had to replace the radiator and oil cooler. When Kahne returned the race, he stood 42nd in the running. He ended the night in 36th place. "Everyone in front of me was jamming on their brakes and I didn't see that until it was too late," said Kahne. "I feel we were going to have a good night as the car ran pretty well after we got back out there."
ETC.: Kahne won his first Cup race at Richmond in May 2005. Starting from the pole, Kahne dominated the race, leading 242 of the 400 laps. "That is a day I will always remember," said Kahne. "It was one of those special days when everything just goes right. We really had a great car. It sure would be nice to get another win at Richmond."
56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 15 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. Stands second in the wild card standings with one win.
RICHMOND RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Richmond has not been one of Truex's better tracks, but he knows he needs to run well there Saturday night if he wants to make the Chase. His edge over Ryan Newman in the race for the second and final wild card spot is only five points. "We did a test there and felt like we were better than when we were there in the spring," said Truex. "That place is very, very difficult. You practice in the day, you race at night, the track changes a lot. You never really know what you have until the race starts. All you can do is do your best."
LOOKING BACK: After breaking a bone in his right wrist during a multi-car accident at Bristol, Truex was forced to wear cast for the Atlanta race. And to compound things, his cast began to disintegrate by the end of the race. "The cast inside my hand got all soft," said Truex. "It's kind of broke right around my thumb. My wrist was moving around a lot more than I wanted it to. I mean, when you're steering back and forth here and you're out of control and you're holding on and you're sawing the wheel - it felt like every time I moved it somebody was hitting it with a hammer. It hurt like hell. The pain got to be real sharp." Despite all his troubles, Truex was able to finish third after having a shot at the win on the final restart with 21 laps to go. "Almost had Kyle (Busch) there on that last restart, almost had him cleared, he got into my right rear getting into (turn) three, he got me loose and once he got into me -- I was too tight and probably wouldn't have been able to hold him off even if I could have cleared him," added Truex. "Third is good night for what we had most of the night."
ETC.: Truex admits he hopes Kasey Kahne gets back in the top 10. "Right now, he has one of the wild card spots locked up so that means we are fighting for the other one unless we can get back in the top 10," said Truex. "Fighting for two spots is easier than one. We were able to have a good night when the pressure was on at Atlanta and we'll have to do it again at Richmond."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 20 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. Stands third, only five points back of second-place Martin Truex, Jr., in the wild-card standings with one win.
RICHMOND RECORD: Has finished eighth in the last two September races at Richmond. Overall has one win and 13 top-10 finishes in 23 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman knows he has to finish at least six spots in front of Martin Truex, Jr. to have any shot at earning a wild card spot in the Chase. "We can still finish in the top 10, but we would have to have a lot of things go our way, so probably our best bet is to outrun the 56 (Truex)," said Newman. "Our short track program has been good all year so we feel good about the weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Despite getting hit on pit road, Newman was able to run up front for most of the evening as he finished fifth at Atlanta. "I'm really proud of everyone and the job they did tonight," said Newman. "We got squeezed on pit road and had to make an unscheduled pit stop to fix the damage and change the tires. The guys did a great job getting the fenders pulled out, and I almost forgot about it (the damage). We struggled a little bit with the handling, but still had a really strong Aspen Dental Chevrolet."
ETC.: In July Newman was told his contract with Stewart-Haas Racing would not be extended because the team was not in position to add a fourth team. A month later, co-owner Gene Haas hired Kurt Busch for a fourth team. When asked about the Busch announcement, Newman replied, "If they didn't tell Stewart why would they tell me. To me, it was more funny than any kind of frustration from my end, it won't affect me. Obviously, it frees up a situation for 2014 but in the end it doesn't affect me. All of Gene's comments don't make any sense to me in reference to anything I did, have done, sponsorship-wise, winning races. There's no logical explanation for it and I think 99 out of 100 people would say the same thing if they were being honest."
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 28 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski knows the odds are against him in his bid to defend his championship. "We don't dictate our own fate, which is never good," said Keselowski. But he quickly adds, "I'm ready to go to Richmond and win the race. I'm not going to worry myself with where this car is or that car is during the race. We're going to win the race and when it's over we'll see if that was good enough to get us in (this year's Chase for the Championship)."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski was leading the race on lap 243 when suddenly he began to slow down. He immediately told his crew over the radio "we've lost at least one cylinder. The engine is going." And it finally did expire with 15 laps to go as Keselowski ended the day in 35th place to severely damage his hopes of defending his Sprint Cup championship. "It's beyond frustration," said Keselowski. "What can you do? You can sit here and be mad and stomp your feet and be a jerk about it, but it just broke. That's racing. It's kind of been the story of our year. At least, we were leading when it happened." Keselowski, who won his first Cup championship a year ago, now has nearly as many finishes of 30th or worse (six) as he does top-five finishes (seven). And to make matters worse, all of these poor finishes have come in the last 17 races to all but kill his hopes of making this year's Chase for the Championship.
ETC.: Keselowski admits, "It's really easy to sit here and say that it just wasn't our year but I'm not one to make excuses. There are several things you can point to over the course of the year that begin to add up. We hit a rough patch in the middle of the year, plain and simple. Most every team goes through it and it's something that we will definitely learn from."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 39 points out of the top 10.
RICHMOND RECORD: Only three top-10 finishes in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: The only way McMurray can earn a spot in the Chase is by winning the Richmond race and outpointing Martin Truex, Jr. by 25 points and Ryan Newman by 19. "We have one last shot to make our way into the Chase so our guys will be focused on the task at hand," said McMurray. "I am running the Nationwide race on Friday night so I hope the extra track time will help us on Saturday night. I look forward to having a good weekend in both cars."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 11th at Atlanta to keep alive his slim hopes of making the Chase for the 2013 Sprint Cup championship. "We had a really good Chevy tonight," said McMurray. "We just got a little loose on that last run and weren't able to get back up into the top-10 in the closing laps. Overall we had a good night for our team."
ETC.: During the press conference to announce Kyle Larson as the new driver of the 42 car last week, car owner Chip Ganassi said he had just recently signed McMurray for 2014. "We were never worried about it," said McMurray. "We knew where we would be in 2014. We knew everything would be the same for the 1 car."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 61 points out of the top 10.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished 13th in the spring race to equal his best finish in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "We had a decent finish earlier this year at Richmond, and we are hoping to build on that this weekend. We are hoping to start a streak of top-10's on Saturday night. Richmond races like a track much bigger than it is (three-quarters of a mile), so as a driver, I've got to approach the track differently."
LOOKING BACK: Menard said it best when he stated "it was a long night for the No. 27 Moen/Menards crew. We got caught up in pit road congestion during the first stop of the night putting us behind and then the 11 (Denny Hamlin) put us in the wall a few laps later. We lost laps making repairs and we were never able to get them back. The crew worked really hard all night making adjustments and the car wasn't too bad considering the damage." Menard finished 24th.
ETC.: Menard feels turn three at Richmond is "almost like a Martinsville turn. It has a really sharp entrance and it's not very open. On exit, it opens back up with the 'D' shape. There is a really big arch going into turn one, but you carry a lot of speed into turn one, you get hard on the brakes and then the groove opens up as you exit turn two and you can run where your car wants to run."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 79 points out of the top 10.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished eighth in the spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "There is a lot of stuff on the line at Richmond. Unfortunately we are outside the Chase, but we are still going to try to run as well as we can - maybe even spoil the event and get a win. With the Chase out of the picture, we are going to focus on winning and racing up front and not worry so much about the points. The fun thing about Richmond is that the tires fall off really bad. You get to slipping and sliding around, and forward drive is really important. You really have to focus on your setup there and get it right."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola battled an ill-handling race car for most of the night as he finished 20th at Atlanta. "That was not the night we were expecting," said Almirola. "We could not anticipate the car's reaction to any of the changes. Each time we made an adjustment, the car did not react the way it should have. This is a really difficult track, but we thought we had a good package coming into the weekend. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the car to do what we wanted it to do."
ETC.: Crew chief Todd Parrott is quick to point out "we got a top-10 the last time we were at Richmond, and we've come a long way since then. So I expect that we can run up front this weekend. We didn't make the Chase, so that will allow us to just focus on getting better and getting a win this season. I think that is a realistic goal."
42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 91 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished fourth in the spring race after leading 67 laps.
LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "Richmond is the race that got away from us earlier this year. Our Chevy was strong and if it wasn't for that untimely caution (with only four laps to go), we would have gotten that win. We're looking forward to going back and getting that win (his first oval track win in NASCAR)." Montoya was leading when the yellow flag was waved. He lost the lead on pit road and ended the night in fourth place.
LOOKING BACK: Montoya dived underneath pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. moments after the green flag was waved to start the race and grabbed the lead. Montoya led the first 24 laps and 38 laps in all before running into handling problems during the middle portions of the race. But Montoya was able to battle back in the final 50 laps to finish sixth at Atlanta for his second straight top-six finish and third in the last four races. "It was a good night for the Target team," said Montoya. "We had some trouble keeping up with the changing track conditions during the first half of the race, but the guys made great changes and the car was good at the end. Happy that we were able to bring home another top-10 finish for Target tonight." Montoya was told last month he would not be returning to the team in 2014.
ETC.: Kyle Larson, 21, is presently in his first full year of racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. While he stands seventh in the Nationwide standings with 14 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in the first 24 races, he has yet to win a race. But car owner Chip Ganassi believes Larson is ready to tackle the Sprint Cup Series and that is why Larson was named the driver of the 42 car for the 2014 season. "We felt that Kyle was the best option for our organization," said Ganassi. "I'm sure there will be growing pains, but we think he is ready. He is a special kid."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 98 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose is really looking forward to the final 11 races of the season. "I've been really proud of our Richard Petty Motorsports team the past month," said Ambrose. "It just seems that we're working really well together, and we're making the most of our races. I think it has given everyone a lot of confidence and is making us stronger as we go into the final 11 weeks. We just seem to be getting better, and it's making me feel good behind the wheel. We wish we had these results earlier in the year, but that's part of racing. We had to let some bad luck get behind us, and now, we're really starting to show some strength."
LOOKING BACK: After running as high as third late in the race, Ambrose was disappointed to end the night in 13th place. "It's not the finish that we wanted, but we ran strong. We fought hard all night. We didn't have the fastest car, but we got ourselves in a good position. If that last yellow flag hadn't come out, we would've been in great shape. I just needed clear air on the nose. In traffic I was in trouble. And so on that last restart, we lost a lot of ground we had gained. But I'm just really proud of my team. These past few weeks, we've been working well as a team. I'm driving a little more relaxed and that helps too. We have some work to do as a company, but we're running decent and we've got something to build from."
ETC.: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said he's "excited" about the new race chassis the team will be running this weekend in Richmond. "We have been working on it (back at the shop), and I can't wait to see how it races. We have significantly improved our finishes the past few weeks. Our DeWalt team is pretty strong right now, and we're looking forward to this race."
17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 109 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished 16th in his first Cup start in April.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse feels "the 17 team is improving every week. We got our first pole last weekend, so now we are just looking for our first top-10. We have Nationwide back on our Ford Fusion so we want to get them a solid finish this weekend. If we can get our Ford to turn in the center (of the corner) for a good drive off, I think we will get our first top-10 this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the first pole position of his young Sprint Cup career, Stenhouse had visions of earning his first top-10 finish of his rookie season. But he never led a lap and had dropped out of the top 10 before the competition yellow flag on lap 26. He ended the night in 16th place. "We had a really frustrating night," said Stenhouse. "We had high hopes going into the race, but our Best Buy Ford started out really tight and wouldn't turn so fell back on the start. We as an organization have to work on the front ends of our cars and get them turning better. I wish we would have had a better showing after such a great start to the weekend."
ETC.: Stenhouse, who won the Nationwide Series championship in 2011 and '12 before moving to the Sprint Cup Series this season, said, "I've learned a lot this year. It's not fun not running up front and being consistently in the top 10 and top five, but that's still our goal. It was good to get something accomplished last week with that pole. We've not gotten much accomplished of what we thought we should. Maybe the goals we were settling are out of reach. But we're still striving to get them. The guys are putting all they've got into it. We want to finish the year on a high note."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 117 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished fifth in the spring race for his second straight top-six finish. Overall has one win and 17 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 38 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton calls Richmond "the perfect-sized race track. I wish we had more three-quarters of a mile race tracks. Richmond has these big, wide sweeping corners in turns three and four while turns one and two are much tighter. The track has enough width to put on good side-by-side racing. We always have good racing at Richmond."
LOOKING BACK: Despite being involved in a multi-car accident only 29 laps into the race, Burton battled back and was running tenth when disaster struck as he slowed to make a regularly-scheduled pit stop. He was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson. A few laps later, the right-rear tire went flat on Burton's Chevrolet sending him hard into the wall and teammate Austin Dillon. As a result, Burton ended up 34th. "I am really proud of how the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet ran tonight," said Burton. "We battled back into the top 10 after the first incident and then a cut tire at the end ruined our night. I really like these guys, they never give up. We will keep on digging."
ETC.: Burton is once again part of the infamous Cup rumor mill, and he can't understand why. This time there have been reports that Ryan Newman will replace him in the 31 car next year with Burton moving to another organization. "I have a contract with RCR," said Burton. "I plan on racing the 31 in 2014."
14 MARK MARTIN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: The team is 15th in the car owner point standings, 23 points out of the top 10. The team stands fourth in the wild card standings with one win (Tony Stewart at Dover).
RICHMOND RECORD: One win and 30 top-10 finishes including 18 top-five's in 55 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin feels "we are getting better and better each week. We've only had two weeks in the car (since being named to finish the season while Stewart recovers from a broken right leg). We feel we are real close to having a really good night in the 14 car. Hopefully it will come this weekend (at Richmond)."
LOOKING BACK: Martin suffered heavy damage to the front of his car in a multi-car accident only 29 laps into the race. As a result, he had to be content with a 25th-place finish at Atlanta. "I am amazed we were able to do what we did tonight," said Martin. "I'm surprised that deal didn't knock the radiator out of the car. The guys did an incredible job getting us back out there. The car just wasn't the same, but we made some pretty good strides. If we can get a little luck to go our way, we're going to be in good shape." This was Martin's second race subbing for the injured Stewart.
ETC.: Stewart made his first public appearance since breaking two bones in his right leg in a winged sprint car on Aug. 5 as he addressed the news media at his race shop on Tuesday. Stewart said his doctors tell him he will be 100 percent for his return for Daytona Speedweeks in February. He has yet to begin his rehabilitation, but he expects that to start in the near future. "I am feeling a lot better," said Stewart. "We've made huge gains in the last four weeks. This is probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with. This is definitely the worst injury I've ever had in my life and racing career."
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 257 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two wins and five top-nine finishes in the last seven races. Has six top-three finishes in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin's luck has been so bad for the past three months that "at this point we'd just like to finish a race. I just can't catch a break." Hamlin hopes a return to one of his favorite tracks, Richmond, means a return to running up front and more importantly, finishing up front. "We always look forward to Richmond," said Hamlin. "It is one of our best tracks."
LOOKING BACK: It was another long, long night for Hamlin. After being forced to change engines during practice, Hamlin started the race at the back of the pack despite qualifying fourth. And then early in the race, Hamlin suffered right-rear quarter panel damage when clipped by Paul Menard. This forced multiple stops for repairs. During one of the stops, he was penalized by NASCAR for pitting outside the box. This put Hamlin two laps down and in 41st place. He had moved up to 21st when Menard deliberately ran into the back of Hamlin on lap 200. Menard blamed Hamlin for the earlier incident. The contact sent Hamlin spinning. After more stops for more repairs, Hamlin returned to the race only to suffer engine failure on lap 233. As a result, he ended the day in 38th place. "I don't know what we've got to do, but we can't seem to finish a race," said Hamlin. "It's frustrating."
ETC.: Because of his spot in the standings, Hamlin and his team plan to spend the rest of the season "experimenting" including running more engines like they did last week at Atlanta. "It is something that Toyota wanted to try," said Hamlin, who suffered two engine failures during the weekend. "That's part of being the 'Guinea Pig" for the rest of the year is that you're going to have these mechanical failures because you're trying to get better," adds Hamlin.
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: The team is 18th in the car owner point standings, 48 points out of the top 10. The team is fifth in the battle for the two wild card spots with one win.
RICHMOND RECORD: Only three top-10 finishes in 15 starts. But he has won two poles.
LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers hopes to continue his run of top-10 finishes at Richmond. "We qualified second in the spring but got caught up in an accident and finished well in the back (35th)," said Vickers. "But we had a good car, so we feel good about this weekend. We've run real well the last two weeks and we just want to keep that up."
LOOKING BACK: Despite a late-race spin, Vickers rallied to finish tenth at Atlanta for his second straight top-10 finish. "It was hard earned by everyone," said Vickers. "We were experimenting in practice with some setups and man, we were so close to getting it figured out and I think if we would have we would have crushed them tonight. But, we couldn't quite get it to work in time and we ended up kind of throwing the kitchen sink at it last night. The guys did a great job."
ETC.: Vickers admits the final 11 races of 2013 will be used to get ready for 2014. "That's what this year is about, preparing for next year and that's what we're doing," said Vickers, who was quick to add, "but our job at every race is to do our best and never give up. We want to thank Aaron's for coming on board and having me in the car the rest of the season and next year."