Richmond Rear View Mirror

Richmond

Controversy permeated the end of the race with yet another restart debate when eventual winner Carl Edwards appeared to beat race leader Paul Menard to the line. Despite every replay showing the 99 clearly ahead of the 27, no penalty was called. (Photo: Getty Images)

The NASCAR regular season didn’t end with a bang but rather a thud.

Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 had its moments but for the most part was a rather tame affair.

The build-up about the potential for aggressive driving and high emotions really didn’t pan out and as has been the case in recent years during the 26th race of the regular season, drivers appeared more determined to protect what they had rather than take something away.

Calculators and spreadsheets definitely got a work out during the 400-laps as positions inside and out of the 12-driver Chase field changed on a regular basis. But for all that was going on in the “who’s in, who’s out” storyline department, there wasn’t a great deal actually happening on the racetrack.

Restarts were wild, as they usually are no matter where the series competes, but exciting passes for the lead were replaced with addition and subtraction of point totals to determine who would move on to the championship portion of the season.

Controversy permeated the end of the race with yet another restart debate when eventual winner Carl Edwards appeared to beat race leader Paul Menard to the line. Despite every replay showing the 99 clearly ahead of the 27, no penalty was called.

Then there was the caution that flew for Clint Bowyer’s suspicious spin, which was a huge break for Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. who was able to snag a Chase spot. The caution wiped out the lead for Ryan Newman, who would have taken a Chase berth ahead of Truex. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver lost the race off pit road and wasn’t able to secure a playoff spot after all, paving the way for Truex Jr. to make his way in.

Despite several accusations from spotters and crew chiefs calling Bowyer’s spin intentional and Dale Earnhardt Jr. saying it was “the craziest thing,” NASCAR did not see any foul play and nothing was called. But the situation cast a large shadow over what should have been a shining moment of the season.

So the tenth edition of the Chase is ready to roll next week at Chicagoland Speedway after a night in Richmond that in many ways left a lot to be desired.

  • It's apparent NASCAR has to do something to address the restart rule, which impacted both Friday night’s Nationwide Series race and Saturday’s regular season Cup finale. Even after issuing a stern warning to drivers before the Federated Auto Parts 400 about the policy in the wake of the controversial Brad Keselowski-Brian Scott Nationwide finish, the same confusion happened again in the night’s final restart between Edwards and Menard. Whether it’s put back in the flagman’s hands, the restart lines are painted across the track or some kind of technology is implanted the situation needs to be addresses sooner rather than later.
  • For the second straight year Jeff Gordon came into the regular season finale with his back against the wall trying to make the Chase. But unlike last year, this time Gordon’s bid fell short in the mad dash for positions during the closing laps of the race. There will no doubt be speculation if the disappointment might expedite Gordon’s decision to retire from the sport. The answer is most likely no but Gordon understands the clock is ticking on trying to become a five-time Sprint Cup Series champ.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s challenge to become a six-time champion continued to be on shaky ground Saturday night with a fourth straight poor outing for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Starting from the rear of the field after Regan Smith qualified his car while Johnson was home for the birth of his second daughter, things went from bad to worse in a hurry. Johnson was at one point three laps down and struggled with a poor handling car all night until finally cutting a tire and smacking the wall. The 48 team is definitely on a downward trend heading into the Chase and his competitors for the crown smell blood in the water.
  • The storybook season for Kurt Busch continued Saturday when he raced his way into the Chase. The Furniture Row Racing team becomes the first single car operation in history to make the playoffs and Busch now has a chance to become a two-time champion. Busch’s pit crew struggled on his first stop but rebounded the rest of the way to help propel their drivers into the title picture, which will be one of the more interesting stories to watch develop over the next ten weeks.

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