In the meantime, life does go on. Jimmie Johnson and wife, Chandra, welcomed their second daughter earlier today, and as a result, Jimmie will skip practice and qualifying for Richmond, only flying in for the race. He's already locked into the Chase, and currently sits first, although the points will reset once the Chase actually begins. (One of these days I'm going to write an entire article about that....) Congratulations go out to the Johnson family.
Jeff Burton held a brief press conference earlier this week to announce that he would be leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the current season. Jeff's contract with RCR actually runs until the end of 2014, and Jeff had been open with Richard about his intentions to step back a bt from racing and run only a partial schedule, should he be able to find a quality ride. However, with Silly Season heating up the way it is, and sponsorship efforts so complex, Jeff came to the conclusion that it would be in the best interests of RCR for him to step aside one year early. No announcement has been made by RCR exactly who the new driver will be, although speculation that both Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman will join the team in 2014 have run rampant.
In other Silly Season news, it seems Juan Pablo Montoya is not ready to call it quits in NASCAR just yet. He has paid a visit to Furniture Row Racing, the current home of Kurt Busch. He is apparently the front runner to fill that seat. Tony Kanaan, it seems, might have a hankering to join the ranks of the open wheelers making that foray into NASCAR. He has reportedly met with Joe Gibbs, but there are no further announcements of any impending moves. In reality, open wheel drivers visit NASCAR shops, and vice versa, more often than may be reported. A visit in itself is not really news, and the rumor earlier this week that he had been offered a seat in a Nationwide car for the 2014 season was quickly squashed.
And finally, the slap heard 'round the NASCAR circuits has resulted in fines levied against driver, Mike Skeen, crew chief, Bryan Berry, and the slapper, Kelly Heaphy. All received $2,500 fines and Heaphy was banned from attending another NASCAR race, at least anywhere in the coveted infield section. All are appealing their fines.
Practice has commenced at Richmond, and in the first Sprint Cup practice, Brad Keselowski was the fastest. He was followed by Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick. Of those top ten, three have clinched a spot and the other seven are in it to win it. They are all true Chasers, the Wild Cards. Kasey Kahne has been declared one of the Wild Card winners, by virtue of his two wins, but he would still like to seal the deal with a win. Dale Jr needs only to finish 32nd or better to clinch a spot, but he has won at Richmond three times, and a win to cap off the regular season would give him huge momentum heading into the Chase. Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are clearly the two guys with the most on the line, and the underdog - dare I say it - has to be Keselowski.
Jeff and Kurt are battling for the top ten. Neither has a win this season. Joey Logano and Greg Biffle are just ahead in 8th and 9th and need good, but not stellar, finishes to clinch.
But let's face it, everybody wants a win. Their first practice speeds show that. They are all working to have the very best car they have had all season. While Kurt has been consistently just a tad better than Jeff, his pit stops have hindered him. And while Jeff Gordon's pit crew, the Rainbow Warriors, have always been top notch, sometimes he hasn't had the finishes he has needed. That's why he sits back in tenth. However, last year when Jeff was battling the "other" Busch in almost exactly the same situation, he was triumphant. Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman are not just sitting on their tails watching the action unfold either. Both need a second win to clinch that second wild card spot.
Then there's Keselowski. Bad Brad hasn't gotten a single Victory Lane appearance this year. He is aiming to change that. Will he succeed?
I'm running off to work tonight, so will completely miss the 1,000th Nationwide (aka Busch in earlier years) race. Tomorrow I am working, then competing in a Charity Golf Tournament, played in the dark. So while you are all watching the cars race around Richmond under the lights, I'll be chasing a little "glow ball" around the golf course. I'll check in when I can from my phone, and keep up with Twitter.
Who do you think is going to take the Checkers? Who do you think will be in the Chase when it all shakes out? I'll post my thoughts on that tomorrow morning before work, or perhaps later tonight when I get home. Next week the Chase begins and we begin our quest to crown a Champion for 2013. Who will it be?