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Let the Chase Begin!

It was a wild night of racing at Richmond International Raceway with several teams battling in their final chance to earn a spot in The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. When the Wonderful Pistachios 400 was over it was Denny Hamlin who had secured his place in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff with a ninth-place finish. Kyle Busch, who entered the night already secure in his place in the Chase, finished the night in the sixth position, while an engine failure left Joey Logano in 35th.

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Kyle Busch, who won the spring race earlier this year at RIR, had the honor of driving a special paint scheme this weekend, with the colors of the American Flag adorning his car as a tribute to those lost on 9-11. The No. 18 M&Ms Toyota started in the 13th position and quickly raced his way into the top ten. Busch was clearly one of the best cars early in the race as he worked his way up into the top five. Busch would have to come down pit road for an unscheduled pit stop on lap 69 when he felt that he might have a loose wheel. The M&Ms crew would put four fresh tires on his Camry and get him back out on the track one lap down. Busch would drive his way into position for the lucky dog spot to get back on the lead lap when a caution came out on lap 116. From there he would drive his way back toward the front of the field. He would re-enter the top 10 on lap 225. Busch would be on pit road when a caution came out on lap 246 causing him to go a lap down yet again. Fortunately he was able to use the wave around to get back on the lead lap. Over the next green flag run Busch was able to drive back inside the top 20 and was running 16th when the next caution came out on lap 285. Busch would race his way back into the top five and restarted in fourth following the night’s final caution with 12 laps to go. He would go on to finish in sixth. Busch will open the Chase next week in Chicago tied with Kevin Harvick as the number one seed with four victories this season giving him 12 total bonus points.

Denny Hamlin entered the night in the second of two wild card positions to make the Chase thanks to a victory earlier in the season and his current position in the point standings. The No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota started from the 28th position and was racing for track position early when an accident in front of him on lap 9 caused many in the field to bunch up and collected Hamlin. Hamlin would have significant damage to the right front of his Camry, but the setback didn’t deter the FedEx team as they went to work to make repairs and was able to do so while only losing one lap to the field on the short track of RIR. Over the next several cautions crew chief Mike Ford and the FedEx team continued to make adjustments to the car and soon Hamlin would gain his spot back on the lead lap.  From there Hamlin would patiently begin to make his way back up through the field and on lap 240 he would enter the top ten for the first time of the race. The FedEx Express Camry would remain inside the top ten and earned an impressive ninth-place finish despite all the early struggles following the accident. Hamlin will be the second of two wild card positions in the Chase, although he also finished 12th in the overall point standings, which would have earned him the spot under the previous scoring system as well.

Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the 16th position and would battle handling conditions through the early portion of the race. Logano was racing in the 20th position at the midpoint of the race with The Home Depot crew making adjustments with each pit stop in attempt to improve the balance on the car. Just past the halfway mark Logano would report that his car was extremely tight during. A solid pit stop on lap 250 would allow Logano to restart in the 15th position on lap 253 and he would hold that spot over the next 30 laps or so before he called in on his radio to report that he felt something might be wrong with his engine. Fifteen laps later white smoke would come from the back of his No. 20 Camry and force Logano to the garage. With his night over early, Logano would have to settle for a 35th-place finish.

Kevin Harvick captured the victory, while Carl Edwards was second, Jeff Gordon third, David Ragan fourth, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five. There were 15 cautions for a total of 85 laps and 11 lead changes among seven different drivers over the course of the 400-lap race.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Chicago next Sunday for the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.  Coverage of the race will start on Sunday, September 18 at 1 PM ET on ESPN (race starts at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius Radio NASCAR channel 90 and MRN Radio.