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2011 Chase contenders locked and loaded

With Harvick taking his fourth win of the season, that blocked off anyone taking an unexpected last-minute first- or second-time win of the season that could have threatened Denny Hamlin from claiming the second wildcard. Even so, Hamlin's heart was in his throat when he too was involved in that same lap 8 multi-car wreck as Earnhardt was.

"My car is just in shambles. It is in bad, bad shape," said Hamlin, who nonetheless recovered to a ninth place finish. "That was not what I planned on happening.

"It was nerve wracking because every person that could win and then knock us out was running up front all day long, and it was just like, you know, if it wasn't one guy, it was another," he continued. "One of them was always a threat to win throughout the entire day. It was one of those days where [there were a lot of] very nervous moments."

If things had gone differently, then the next man in line for the wildcard would have been David Ragan, who came out top on the battle of the "one-time winners" to finish ahead of Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose and in the top 20 after securing fourth place at Richmond.

"We needed to win this thing," said Ragan. "We had a race winner here if things would have fell our way." If he had managed to win then the two victories would have seen him leapfrog Hamlin for the wildcard, but it was not to be.

Now the Chase line-up is locked, the Cup championship points adjustment goes into effect that sees all those in the Chase boosted to 2000pts, free and clear of the rest of the Cup drivers.

Those who qualified in the top ten get a further three bonus points for each win that they have taken during the regular season, meaning that as four-time winners Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are tied in the lead with 2012pts ahead of Jeff Gordon (2009pts) and Matt Kenseth (2006pts).

However, those who qualified on a wildcard are deemed to have 'burned up' their wins bonus in getting through to the Chase in the first place, so Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin both start on 2000pts as do the winless Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But the Chase is really designed to level the playing field at a crucial moment. It makes the last part of the season a thrilling finale to a year of racing by stopping any one car or team already having amassed a runaway lead by this point that the title is already de facto decided (as is the case, for example, in F1 with Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull).

In other words: with the Chase reset, it's wide open again.

"I am ready to go get this Chase on," said Carl Edwards, who narrowly missed out on an extra 3pts in the Chase when he was pipped by Harvick to the Richmond win in the final laps. "I am pretty excited about all the races we are going to after tonight."




Related Pictures

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Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin pose after clinching spots in the Chase at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday. [Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images]
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, races during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 3M Chevrolet, talks to his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, on the grid prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Comcast Business Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualifies for seventh position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Busch is 21st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, races the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates with pistols in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates with pistols in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the # 48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to victory Saturday, April 11, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Johnson moved to second place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the # 48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, does a burnout in celebration of his win Saturday, April 11, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Johnson moved to second place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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