Road to Richmond

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch has Furniture Row Racing on the verge of making its first Chase. (Photo: Getty Images)

We’ve watched and waited. What will Kurt Busch do next? Most often people were waiting for an R-rated rant from one of the sport’s more combustible drivers. While we’ve watched, Busch has reminded us of his immense talent.

Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway provided just another example when he went from 11th to second on a restart. The late-race move helped him finish fourth and head to Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway 10th in the points - the final automatic transfer spot to the Chase.

Busch’s advantage is scant. He leads Jeff Gordon by six points. Three others are within 20 points of Busch going into the final race before the Chase begins. One mistake could cost Busch a chance to compete for a title.

Busch and crew chief Todd Berrier have amazed all year. They have the single-car Furniture Row Racing team on the verge of making the Chase. Before this season, Furniture Row Racing had never had a driver finish in the top 20 in points.

Before this season, Furniture Row Racing had one win, three top-five-finishes and 11 top-10s in 199 starts. Although Busch is winless with the team, he’s scored seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s this season.

It’s easy to see why Gene Haas will use his own company’s money to sponsor Busch next year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The 2004 series champion could be doing his best driving this season, helping a team based in Denver, Colo., beat some of the top organizations in the sport.

“We’re in control,’’ Busch said after the Atlanta race. “We go to Richmond and put the pressure on everybody else.’’

Here’s a look at where Busch and others stand entering Richmond and their chances of making the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Rank: 7th
Points ahead of 11th: 37
Clinches Chase spot: Finishes 32nd or better. If he leads a lap, he clinches by finishing 33rd or better. If he leads the most laps, he clinches by finishing 34th or better.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 12.2
In or Out: He makes the Chase.

Joey Logano
Rank:
8th
Points ahead of 11th: 16
Clinches Chase spot: Finishes 11th or better. If he leads a lap, he clinches by finishing 12th or better. If he leads the most laps, he clinches by finishing 13th or better.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 20.6
In or Out: He makes it.

Greg Biffle
Rank:
9th
Points ahead of 11th: 14
Clinches Chase spot: Finishes ninth or better. If he leads a lap, he clinches by finishing 10th or better. If he leads the most laps, he clinches by finishing 11th or better.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 18.2
In or Out: This team has been living on the edge for weeks. It’s luck runs out and the team misses the Chase.

Kurt Busch
Rank: 10th
Points ahead of 11th: 6
Clinches Chase spot: By winning. If he leads a lap, he clinches by finishing second or better. If he leads the most laps, he clinches by finishing third or better.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 18.4
In or Out: He’s defied the odds all season. He’ll defy them and lead this single-car team to the Chase.

Jeff Gordon
Rank:
11th
Points behind 10th: 6
Clinches Chase spot: Cinches at least a Wild Card with a win. Remains eligible for a top-10 spot.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 15.6
In or Out: He made it last year with a dramatic rally. Don't expect lightning to strike twice. He misses the Chase.

Kasey Kahne
Rank: 12th
Points behind 10th: 10
Clinches Chase spot: He’s already clinched a Wild Card. He remains eligible for a top-10 spot.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 15.8
In or Out: He’ll make it into the top 10 and replace Biffle.

Martin Truex Jr.
Rank: 13th
Points behind 10th: 15
Clinches Chase spot: Clinches at least a Wild Card with a win. Remains eligible for a top-10 spot.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 24.0
In or Out: Despite the poor average at Richmond, Michael Waltrip Racing cars are typically good on short tracks. Truex makes Chase by grabbing a Wild Card.

Ryan Newman
Rank: 14th
Points behind 10th: 20
Clinches Chase spot: Clinches at least a Wild Card with a win. Could clinch a Wild Card spot without a win (Logano and Biffle must remain in the top 10 or be replaced by Kahne; Newman must outpoint Truex by six points; Gordon must not win; and Brad Keselowski or Jamie McMurray cannot win and overtake Newman. Remains eligible for a top-10 spot.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 13.2
In or Out: He makes it via the second Wild Card.

Brad Keselowski
Rank:
15th
Points behind 10th: 28
Clinches Chase spot: Must win to be in contention for a Wild Card. To clinch, Keselowski would need to win and outpoint Truex by 13 and Newman by eight (and would only need to outpoint one of these drivers if Kahne would displace a winless driver from the top 10). If Truex or Newman displaces Kurt Busch from the top 10, Keselowski would need to outpoint the other one-win driver remaining outside the top 10 by the requisite amount. Remains eligible for a top-10 spot.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 19.4
In or Out: Too much has to happen for him to make it. He misses the Chase.

Jamie McMurray
Rank: 16th
Points behind 10th: 39
Clinches Chase spot: Remains eligible for a top-10 spot. Must win to be in Wild Card contention. To clinch, he needs to win and outpoint either Truex by 25 and Newman by 19 (and would only need to outpoint one of these drivers if Kahne would displace a winless driver from the top 10). If Truex or Newman displace Kurt Busch from the top 10, he would need to outpoint the other one-win driver remaining outside the top 10 by the requisite amount.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 18.8
In or Out: Remote chances at best. He doesn’t make it.

Paul Menard
Rank:
17th
Points behind 10th: 61
Clinches Chase spot: Needs to win and outpoint Truex by 47 and Newman by 42 (and would only need to outpoint one of these drivers if Kahne would displace a winless driver from the top 10). If Truex or Newman displace Kurt Busch from the top 10, he would need to outpoint the other one-win driver remaining outside the top 10 by the requisite amount.
Avg. finish last 5 RIR races: 24.0
In or Out: No. He’ll have to wait until next year.

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