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Rain delayed the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. But the weather couldn’t put a damper on what was a great ending to the sport’s regular season as the series set its field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Jimmie Johnson clinched his spot two weeks ago at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, but his 13th-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond earned Johnson the second seed in the 12-driver, 10-race Chase field in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Joining Johnson in the Chase were his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates as Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne clinched a wild-card spot at the .75-mile oval. Dale Earnhardt Jr. clinched his spot prior to Richmond. This marks the first time in Chase history that all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers made the Chase.
Johnson started the race from the fifth spot after the start was delayed nearly two hours due to rain. He maintained his position in the top-five and was fourth when the race was red-flagged for rain again on lap 152 for nearly an hour. The race resumed, and Johnson led once for two laps before pitting on lap 232 for four tires. Another caution for rain was issued on lap 277. As most of the field pitted, Johnson stayed out, a miscommunication between he and crew chief Chad Knaus. When the race resumed, Johnson immediately began losing positions. He finally settled into 16th, going a lap down with less than 80 laps to go in the race. He would spend the remainder of the event trying to make up spots, eventually ending the night in 13th place.
“We had a decent race tonight,” said Johnson, who has three wins at Richmond. “I’m glad that we got all four Hendrick (Motorsports) cars into the Chase. That was the goal Mr. Hendrick put up for us to accomplish. I’m excited. My Lowe’s Chevy has been fast. We have been very fast over the last few months, and I’m looking forward to the Chase.”
Clint Bowyer won the Federated Auto Parts 400 to score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Richmond.
Gordon finished 1.198 seconds behind Bowyer in the runner-up spot, while Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 41 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
With round 26 of 36 complete, Johnson leads Hendrick Motorsports in the championship point standings with 2009 points, 3 behind series leader Denny Hamlin. Earnhardt is next in seventh place with 2003 points, nine points out. Kahne is 11th with 2000 points followed by Gordon in 12th with 2000 points. Both are 12 points out of first.
The top-10 drivers in points are eligible to compete for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup along with two wild-card drivers – Kahne and Gordon – who were admitted to the Chase field by having the most wins among the drivers who were between 11th and 20th in the standings. NASCAR recalibrated the points for the 12 drivers when the Richmond race ended, with each driver getting 2,000 points. With the exception of the wild-card entrants of Kahne and Gordon, drivers also received three bonus points for each of their respective wins during the 26-race regular season. For drivers starting the Chase with identical point totals, their seed was determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
Ranked in order of where their bonus points seeded them, the drivers competing for this year’s championship are:
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the first race of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – is the Geico 400 on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 1 p.m.