David Ragan holds Ryan Newman’s Chase future in his hands
It all comes down to this — the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular-season finale at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Saturday night. Twelve drivers already have guaranteed themselves Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason berths by virtue of a race win or two. Another driver has a win but is teetering on the top-30 points bubble, and others are vying for the remaining three or four remaining berths.
Drivers locked-in by race wins include Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart. Meanwhile, Chris Buescher has his win from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., but he’s just barely in the top-30 in points to make that win important in terms of getting into the Chase.
Then, there are drivers like rookie phenom Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman looking to get into the Chase on points, or better yet, by finally making their first trip to victory lane in 2016.
As they stand, Elliott, Dillon and McMurray are in the final three provisional Chase spots. And throw Buescher into the fourth one, despite his win, given his points status.
I don’t really see any shuffling going on, Chase field-wise, at RIR on Saturday night. No, I’m not just making that prediction because it’s easy; there’s actually some logic behind it. Here’s the way I see it:
After his team’s midweek penalty resulting from a failed post-race inspection at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway last weekend, Newman has 22 points to make up on McMurray to take that potential Chase spot. Right now, McMurray stands as the provisional “last driver in.” Simply put, that’s 22 positions on the race track. Even if Newman were to lead to most laps with McMurray turning in a “goose egg” in the laps-led category, resulting an a two-point gain for Newman (1 for leading a lap and 1 more for leading the most laps), Newman would still have to finish 20 positions ahead of McMurray to even tie him in points. That’s half a race field, folks. Sure, it could happen. McMurray could blow an engine or get caught up in a wreck early, but that’s not something I would want to have to count on.
Newman’s only realistic chances of making this Chase are probably going to be a win or significant trouble for Buescher. Newman hasn’t been to victory lane since 2013. No, I’m not suggesting the guy’s never going to win again, but after a few years, trips to victory lane are no longer expected.
That brings me to Buescher. Admitted, he didn’t really qualify well for Saturday night’s race — 37th to be exact. David Ragan, the primary driver who stands a chance at knocking Buescher outside the top-30 qualified 21st.
On the surface, that may seem sort of gloom and doom for Buescher. After all, Ragan is just 11 points back from knocking Buescher outside the top-30, and he’s already going to be more spots than that ahead of Buescher at the green flag. But I’m not concerned. We’re not talking (insert random Joe Gibbs Racing driver here), Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., here. We’re talking Ragan. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slighting Ragan’s talent as a race car driver in any way, but the combination of Ragan and BK Racing doesn’t exactly scream top-10, unless of course, we’re talking Talladega. This isn’t Talladega, folks.
Meanwhile, Buescher’s been running pretty well. Added confidence since that first career win and getting better equipment from partner Roush Fenway Racing have Buescher running well, at least by Buescher and Front Row Racing standards, as of late.
When you get right down to it, though, Ragan looks to be Newman’s best friend right about now. He may hold Newman’s Chase future in his hands even more than Newman does, himself.