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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]
Kevin Harvick (L), driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, talks to Regan Smith, driver of the #7 TaxSlayer Bowl Chevrolet, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart at Dover International Speedway on May 30 2014. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR Media)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished fifth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, finished fourth and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, finished twelfth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and his team celebrate in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Doublemint Toyota, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualified for seventh position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Busch is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualified for sixth position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, qualified for second position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s Chevrolet SS, won the pole position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Harvick is sixth 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 Chevrolet, poses with the pole award after qualifying fastest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, poses with his wife DeLana, son Keelan, and the pole award after qualifying fastest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

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