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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]
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS qualified for eleventh position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Earnhardt, Jr. is in the Chase which continues with the Challenger 16 for this and next week`s race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS qualified for sixth position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Johnson is in the Chase which continues with the Challenger 16 for this and next week`s race. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Designate A Driver Chevrolet SS qualified for third position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Harvick is in the Chase which continues with the Challenger 16 for this and next week`s race. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Belkin/Wemo Chevrolet SS qualified for second position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates setting the pole position during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, speaks at a press conference following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, smiles at Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Designate a Driver Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, prepares for practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, leads the field after a restart during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, places his name in the top twelve on The Chase Grid after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, puts the winner`s sticker on his car in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Cars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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