Denny Hamlin wins the race, Brian Vickers is in the Chase, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth out
However, I'll get off my soap-box now and send a thank you to our own Featured Writer, heatherjoy777, who provided live pictures from the track today. Hopefully, she will give us her take on what it was like to be at the race!
Mark Martin lef them to the green with Kyle starting in 8th. As Kyle is the winningest current driver at Richmond, we all expected him to make a move to the front as soon as he possibly could. He did take the lead for the first couple of laps, only to be passed by Denny Hamlin.
The caution flag flew when Tony Stewart got loose and spun, taking Reed Sorenson with him. Tony would have to pit for repairs and would end up a lap down.
The Chasers were scattered throughtout the field with Matt Kenseth furthest back in 37th. Even though his car didn't seem to be to his liking, he moved up, steadily, and by lap 75, just after Jeff Gordon had taken over the lead, was in 29th. His pit stops were challenging, with Michael Waltrip pitting right in front of him, and pitting at the back of his pit box, Matt was having troubles getting out. By a quarter of the way through the race, Matt had only moved up to 27th.
Just before the halfway point in the race, Denny Hamlin went around Jeff Gordon to take the lead again. The leaders were quickly lapping the field, even though the "experts" had predicted there would be 30 or so cars on the lead lap by the end of the race.
The 78 of Regan Smith detonated and brought out the caution right around the halfway mark, and once pit stops were completed and the race got back underway, Denny Hamlin took the point again, but all eyes were again on Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Matt was struggling to get past the back runners, running in the 20's.
At lap 267, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch were swapping in and out of the final spot for the Chase. Both were running in or close to the top 10, while Matt Kenseth still couldn't get his car to work the way he needed. Meanwhile, up front, it was Denny, Jeff, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and Sam Hornish Jr.
As we raced to the 3/4 mark, the announcers started to get excited. There were 22 cars on the lead lap, and Matt Kenseth wasn't one of them, running in 26th, just behind his old friend, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Vickers and Kyle Busch were continuing to battle for the last Chase position, with Vickers running in 9th and Kyle just in front of him in 7th, which wasn't good enough for a Chase spot. All eyes were on those two on the track and everyone was staying out of their way.
With 81 laps to go, Stremme got into Jeff Burtons left rear and cut down his tire. Jeff couldn't get to the inside of the track to get to pit road, and the debris his car put down brought out another caution. What was anticipated as the final pit stop of the night gave the teams one last chance to adjust their cars, but all Matt could do was hope he could move far enough forward to be the first car one lap down and in line for a lucky dog.
Denny Hamlin came out first again, but on the restart he and Jeff Gordon made contact, sending Jeff back into the nid pack. Cautions breed cautions, of course, and Michael Waltrip went lawn mowing.
The next restart saw Kyle Busch moving forward, after having made adjustments that seemd to put his car just the way he liked it, but Vickers had done the same thing and the two were battling for position on the racetrack, and for the spot in the Chase, racing for 5th. Vickers got by Busch for the position, and with that held on to the last Chase spot. There were only 60 laps left in the race when Jeff and Jimmie both caught Kyle and one by one, passed him.
Even though all eyes were on Kyle and Brian, the drivers just ahead of them in the standings still had to race safe, as no one, save the top 4 were safe. Everyone was racing like they were on eggshells. No one could afford to make a mistake, have a tire go down, spin their tires, or rub a wall. Truthfully, this was the culmination of one of the closest races in the year, maybe not for the race itself, but certainly for the Chase positions.
By all accounts, the race for the Chase appeared to be destined for a last lap decision on who would get in and who would be out. Caution with less than 20 laps to go when Brad Keselowski's engine let go sent the teams to the pits for one last stop. Kyle's crew did what he needed them to do and got him an excellent pit stop under pressure. Kyle got out just ahead of Brian, not enough to put him ahead of Brian in the standings, but ahead enough to give him a fighting chance. A crewman on Reutimann's crew was hit by a tire on that stop, when it got away, but he was fine.
As the final laps wound down to the end of the race, Denny Hamlin, dominant all night long, continued with that domination and won the race on his "hometown track", while Brian Vickers did exactly what he knew he had to do, finishing 8 points ahead of Kyle Busch for the 12th and final spot in the Chase. Matt Kenseth missed the Chase for the first time since it's inception, by a mere 38 points.
The twelve drivers in the Chase after the end of the race were Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kasey kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle and in 12th, Brian Vickers.
Thank you once again to Heather for the great pictures!
It's on to Loudon next weekend, where Mark Martin will take over the top spot, by virtue of his four wins.
LET THE CHASE BEGIN!!