Busch vs. Gordon could be epic
RICHMOND, Va. -- My dream scenario for Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC) has Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch first and second with Carl Edwards right behind them on a green-white-checkered finish.
Gordon has to fend off Busch and win to make the Chase.
Busch has to bump Gordon out of the way and win to make the Chase.
Edwards has to wreck them both -- or hope they wreck each other enough that they finish far enough back in the field that he passes both on points -- and win to make the Chase.
"I wouldn't change the channel if that scenario presented itself," said Edwards, winless and trailing Busch by 26 points and Gordon by 14, heading into NASCAR's regular-season finale.
It would be insane. Such a moment automatically would jump near or to the top of NASCAR's all-time list of greatest finishes.
But the race also could turn into a snoozer, with Busch dominating to eliminate all the drama.
This race often gets hyped to the point it can't possibly live up to expectations. We come up with all kinds of wild scenarios of who will wreck whom to earn the final wild-card spots, then nothing really happens and we leave feeling cheated.
This year's edition has a different feel, though. Sure, Busch and Gordon have the most realistic chance to secure a wild card based on where they are in points and their history at Richmond.
"I'm telling you guys, there is so much that is going to happen out here," Edwards said. "It's going to be tough to keep track of all the scenarios as the night progresses."
You never know what might happen, as we saw in 2004 when Jeremy Mayfield had to lead the most laps and win the race -- which he did -- to make the Chase. That was before NASCAR created the Chase wild card.
This has the same feel as last year's grand finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Stewart won the race to win the title over Edwards in a tiebreaker.
"I believe the hype is real," Edwards said. "There are a lot of guys with a lot on the line willing to risk a bunch. And, if the circumstances are right, you're going to see an insane race."
Many sporting events fail to live up to the hype. Look at how many Super Bowls have been duds.
But that doesn't keep the media from building up the event, because that's what we do, and it doesn't keep the drivers from building up their possibilities of making the Chase, because they have to have hope.
"You want fans to show up for the race," Busch said, as if he were a track promoter. "That's always what you've got to do. I mean, Jeff and I, we could have brought boxing gloves and made it a thing between us two."
Instead, the two exchanged a high-five as they changed spots in front of the media spotlight in Thursday's wild-card press conference.
But Gordon didn't throw any cold water on the possibility of drama. Asked whether he would bump Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the way for the win even understanding the fan backlash, he said, "We're going to be treating anybody in front of us as if they're the enemies."
For the record, Earnhardt wouldn't blame Gordon if he moved him to make the Chase, although the fan base for NASCAR's most popular driver might feel differently.
"Well, I think the crowd reaction would be quite big," Earnhardt said with a smile. "I wouldn't expect anything else. If I was in the same situation, I would have a hard time not doing the same thing.
"I would think, regardless of the individuals involved, if there's two guys within reach of each other on the last lap, something is going to happen. I wouldn't expect anything different."
Gordon had his chance to be the bad boy last week at Atlanta but let Denny Hamlin off the hook on the green-white-checkered finish. He regrets that now, saying he will do "whatever it takes" to win.
"It would be great if it was us two going after the [win]," said Busch, who admitted things could get hairy if Gordon is leading with him in second on the final lap. "In all reality, it comes down to every man for himself and this is everyone's year.
"If you don't make the Chase, essentially the way I feel about it, you're just another car out there making circles. But I'd rather it not get ugly."
Winning aside, Busch would be happy with one of the drivers inside the top 10 winning and him finishing in the top five, as he typically does at this three-quarters of a mile track.
"There's certainly a great opportunity for it to be very wild," Busch said. "There is a great opportunity for it to be a little dull. To be honest with you, I'm going more with the dull side. I'd rather have it be dull so there's less B.S. afterwards."
But everyone outside the drivers loves the B.S. Everyone loves the potential craziness this race creates. As Gordon said, the Chase was good when implemented in 2004, but last year's addition of two wild cards based solely on wins and being in the top 20 has "taken this to a whole other level."
There is more drama heading into this race than there likely will be in the season finale for the title. If we're lucky, there will be three drivers with a shot to win the title when we get to South Florida.
"We're treating this as if this is the championship," said Gordon, who also could secure a wild-card spot by overcoming his 12-point deficit to Busch as long as none of the other one-win contenders takes the checkered flag. "This is our Homestead."
Those already locked in or close have to be aware of that. They have to be aware that, if a driver needs to pick up one spot or the win on the final lap, they had better pay close attention to their rearview mirror.
"I would be aware of it and make sure I give them plenty of room," said Kahne, who, with two wins, is all but guaranteed at least a wild-card spot.
All bets are off. And, if a driver bumps somebody out of the way to make the Chase, he should gain respect and not lose it, as might be the case in a normal race.
"Short-track racing applies here," Gordon said. "Certainly, a lot less rules apply. When you're in a basically have-to-win situation, [it's] up to others around to understand how important it is."
In other words, get out of the way or risk suffering the consequences.
"It's our responsibility to be aggressive and do whatever it takes to win," Gordon said. "It's others' responsibility to know what's on the line for themselves and their competitors.
"Whether you're a teammate or not a teammate, you should know what's coming."
Chances are, nothing will change Saturday. The 12 drivers currently in the Chase could be the same after the race -- just as they were a year ago.
But, if you remember, there was a lot of drama during this race in which a driver or two were in jeopardy of being left out. Hamlin had to rally from a lap down after an early incident to make it.
That you have three of the sport's top drivers in Gordon, Edwards and Busch fighting for what is realistically one spot is drama enough. It's a scenario few would or could have imagined when the season began.
"Yeah, it makes me feel real good that Jeff Gordon is in as bad of a position as I am," Edwards said with a laugh.
There's a feeling of desperation that makes this regular-season finale feel like none other. Maybe it won't be insane, but the potential certainly is there.
"I've seen a lot of crazy things happen in this sport," Edwards said. "That's why I'm doing my best to not think about 'what if we don't make it.' I'm trying to focus on what I can do to win this race.
"I've got both fingers, all of my toes, everything crossed hoping that works out."