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RICHMOND, Va. -- Jeff Gordon needs a good race to make the Chase -- he's currently in 11th place, and he's going to get off to a good start.
Gordon earned the pole Friday and will start up front Saturday when the green flag waves for the Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
It is the 73rd pole of his career and his first this season.
Kurt Busch, who leads Gordon by just six points, qualified on the outside of the front row, setting a up a classic duel to make the Chase from the get-go.
"Qualifying has not been very good for me and this team this season," Gordon said. "I'm proud of this one, we really needed it. Having that No. 1 pit stall can be a big deal.
"… I've made a lot of mistakes, personally, this year. Hopefully we don't have any of them here. So far, so good."
Busch is feeling good about his chances of staying in the top 10 and the Chase.
"We just threw a couple of things at it and it stuck," Busch said on ESPN2.
-- K. Lee Davis
The @Drive2EndHunger @TeamChevy SS sets a new track record @RIRInsider & claims the pole! #NASCAR #Team24 pic.twitter.com/fAvvK86gsL— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) September 6, 2013
One last race to make the Chase, and Richmond International Raceway is ready to host Saturday's race with perfect weather expected.
What to expect on the track is a little harder to predict as everyone was being asked if it's OK to take another driver out in this race more than others.
"Yeah, it's crazy," said Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief. "There are a lot of different scenarios that are going to potentially play out. I'm glad I'm not involved in it, how's that?
"We were talking about it in the competition meeting the other day, and I was like, 'Darn, can I just stay home and not even get in this mess?' Because it's going to be a show, I can tell you that. But it's going to be exciting and that's what we want. We've seen it year in and year out, that coming into Richmond a lot of guys and a lot of players make some pretty critical decisions to take them out or put them into the Chase."
Knaus now has the added pressure of trying to get a win Saturday with his driver missing on Friday. Johnson's wife, Chandra, delivered their second child early Friday morning, a girl.
So how will Johnson and his team adjust?
"Really, as poorly as we have qualified here, I don't think the implications are going to be too bad," Knaus said. "We start toward the rear typically anyhow. So we are going to go out there; we're going to try and qualify as best we can so we get a solid pit selection."
As for one of the drivers who has to sweat to make the Chase, Greg Biffle is in ninth place without a lot of margin for error. That doesn't mean he's going to go wild.
"I don't want to be the guy that got in the Chase because I wrecked somebody, because I cleaned them off on the last lap," he said. "That's probably not a good thing to do."
-- K. Lee Davis
Legendary late model sportsman driver Jack Ingram -- his name is just too tough and crusty to tie in with modern-day series titles like Nationwide, or even back to Busch -- illustrated once again Friday why he was called the Iron Man.
Ingram never needed much in the way of luxury while he was winning three straight championships in NASCAR's second-tier series (by whatever name) in 1972-73-74.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame decided to celebrate Ingram's induction, and mark the 1,000th race for the second series, with a retro paint scheme on Elliott Sadler's car Friday night here. It's essentially Ingram's old racing livery.
Ingram thought he got a pretty good deal to appear here Friday: "They paid for my gas and picked up our motel bill," he said.
In the Iron Man's tough old frame of reference, compared to the late model sportsman years, that's living pretty high on the hog.
-- Ed Hinton
My honor."@HRoseviolet: Finally met @Elliott_Sadler in person! Best part of the day!! Thanks again for everything!! pic.twitter.com/O1EXOpXkZp"— Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) September 6, 2013
Joe Gibbs Racing is assured of at least a tie for the top seed in the Chase regardless of what happens Saturday night. Matt Kenseth's five wins on the season cannot be topped and can be tied only by JGR teammate Kyle Busch or Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson, who have four wins each.
Should Busch win here, "it gives you confidence from these last two weeks," he said, referring to his win Sunday night at Atlanta, "being able to win two in a row and head into the Chase with some good momentum. … I think being able to get those extra bonus points certainly helps your opportunity to give yourself a better seeding or just give yourself more points to start with."
Win or not, Busch is locked into the Chase and can use Richmond International Raceway as something of a test track in preparation for two venues in the Chase.
At three-fourths of a mile, "This place is similar to Loudon [N.H.] and Phoenix [both 1-mile ovals]," Busch said, "so you tend to try to run some of the same stuff, so whatever we can try to learn here this weekend we can sort of translate over to those places."
All in all, "it's a weekend for us to have nothing to race for but a win."
-- Ed Hinton
Final practice: Gordon, Kyle, #DaleJr, Truex, Burton, Kahne, Montoya, Kenseth, Edwards, M. Martin; Hamlin, Bowyer, McMurray, Ambrose #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) September 6, 2013
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has the easiest road to the Chase, needing to finish 32nd or better to lock up a berth. In 28 career Richmond starts, he's finished worse than 32nd only twice. However, just three weeks ago, Earnhardt finished 36th at Michigan.
Among the drivers from eighth to 10th in points:
• Joey Logano clinches by finishing 11th or better.
• Greg Biffle clinches by finishing in the top nine.
• Kurt Busch clinches with a win, or by finishing second with a lap led.
Logano could make his first Chase. Busch could make history by becoming the first driver from a single-car team to make the Chase, doing so for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing.
Beyond those four, three other drivers enter Richmond in a "win and you're in" situation: Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman.
Not so fortunate is the defending series champion, Brad Keselowski, who is in danger of becoming the second Chase champion to miss the Chase the following year, joining Tony Stewart in 2006. In fact, if Keselowski misses the Chase, he's guaranteed to finish outside the top 12 in points, something that no defending champion who has run the full season has ever done before.
And, to give an idea of how wild this season has been, two other drivers who remain mathematically alive for a Chase berth (Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard) each have a top-5 finish this year.
-- Matt Willis
.@JeffGordonWeb greets and thanks members of the military at @RIRInsider pic.twitter.com/8MBpg4sleX— Drive to End Hunger (@Drive2EndHunger) September 6, 2013
Tony Stewart's back at the track, but he's not getting back on the track any time soon.
Still recovering from his broken right leg suffered last month in a sprint car race accident, Stewart was at RIR on Friday in a pretty fancy electric scooter.
He's still talking about making it back in time for testing in January.
-- K. Lee Davis
Tony keeping an eye on his baby. @MRNRadio #askmrn pic.twitter.com/zXrGxkJzME— Alex Hayden (@TheAlexHayden) September 6, 2013