Well, the 2015 regular season is about to come to an end. After Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the NASCAR playoffs will be set and the field of 16 drivers that will duel it out for the championship will be finalized. Currently, the 11 drivers that have won this season are locked into the Chase. Jamie McMurray clinches his berth by starting Saturday night’s race, and a few other drivers can clinch their spot on points as well: Ryan Newman (by finishing 31st), Jeff Gordon (by finishing 17th), and Paul Menard (by finishing 9th). Of course, the way to really lock yourself in is to get a win, and it will be interesting to see what guys like Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson do this weekend to try and accomplish that, as they are quite far behind in points.
Fantasy Sleepers for Richmond 2
Aric Almirola – If Clint Bowyer really messes up here on Saturday night, Aric Almirola could be in the cat bird’s seat to make the Chase on points. Additionally, he’s one of those guys that I could see gambling for the win late in the race as well. Richmond has been a pretty good race track for Almirola throughout his Sprint Cup career (18.1 average finish) and it actually ranks 4th-best among active venues on Aric’s résumé. He has two top 10s and five top 20s in seven career starts here and hasn’t ended up worse than 20th at Richmond since the 2012 season. That’s not too bad for a guy like Almirola. Plus, in this race last year, he came home with a solid 10th-place result. Last year we saw the #43 team sneak into the Chase with a win at Daytona, but will they get lucky again in 2015? I don’t see it happening, but never say never. Momentum-wise, Almirola is on a five-race streak of finishes between 11th and 18th, which is actually quite impressive for him.
A.J. Allmendinger – Believe it or not, Richmond has been Allmendinger’s 3rd-best track on the circuit over the last two-and-a-half years of Sprint Cup action. He finished 13th here back in April after a solid top 5 qualifying effort and wound up with a surprising top 10 result back in the 2014 April event. Looking at his last nine starts at this track, A.J. has posted a finish of 16th or better in all but one of those races, which is actually a great value for a mid-tier guy like Allmendinger. As I’ve mentioned before, the move by JTG Daugherty Racing to Chevrolet has really given this team some added horsepower, and with a little luck this #47 team has been able to get some pretty good finishes in 2015–like their 7th-place run at Pocono last month. Don’t be surprised if The Dinger comes away with another top 15 here on Saturday night.
Kasey Kahne – I’m really trying to figure out how Rick Hendrick hasn’t worked out a deal to release Kasey Kahne from the organization. That’s an entirely different subject that I could go on forever about, but this team has got progressively worse since Kasey joined the organization. He currently owns an 18.2 average finish in 2015 Sprint Cup action, which would equal out to Kahne’s 4th-worst season in his Sprint Cup career. Now, with all that being said, I’ll go ahead and place Kasey as the #1 driver currently “on the outside looking in” that could sneak into this year’s Chase with a win on Saturday night. Kahne has won at Richmond before (way back in 2005) and ended up 6th here back in April. He has been known to pull a surprise victory out of his ass before so it really wouldn’t surprise me if Kasey took the Federated Auto Parts 400 checkered flag this weekend.
Austin Dillon – Here’s a guy that isn’t really being talked about much as far as a last-minute winner to get into the Chase, but all it takes for a team like this #3 bunch to get to victory lane is a little luck because they have been putting some strong race cars on the track lately. In fact, in three of the last five Sprint Cup races, the #3 Chevrolet has come home in 13th place or better, including a solid 4th-place run at Michigan last month. Dillon’s history here at Richmond leaves much to be desired, though. In three career starts at RIR, the driver of the #3 Chevrolet has came home in 27th, 20th, and 27th. It’s going to take a hail mary for Austin Dillon to make the Chase this year, but you know Richard Childress will be doing all he can to put this #3 car in NASCAR’s playoffs this season.