In one of the more improbable Chase finishes the sport of NASCAR has ever seen, Jeff Gordon defeated Kyle Busch to earn the second and final Wild Card spot for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Gordon will now compete for the 2012 championship against ridiculous odds after he had to either win at Richmond for the final Chase berth or beat Kyle Busch by 12 or more points (essentially 12 or more positions). Busch had won four of the last seven races at Richmond heading into tonight’s race.
Gordon rallied by extreme proportions to take the final Wild Card spot after what appeared to be a disastrous night originally. Gordon’s teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. allowed Gordon to lead the first two laps after Gordon started in the second position (and Jr. on pole), but quickly re-took the top spot and began to battle Denny Hamlin for the lead.
Hamlin was going for his third consecutive win after winning the night races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway the past two weeks. He and Earnhardt traded the lead for most of the race, even when the event was stopped by rain about fifty laps short of halfway.
By that time, Gordon was already a lap down to the leaders and appeared to be in horrible shape, standing in 26th at the time of the red flag for the rain shower. He hastily ended an interview by ESPN’s Vince Welch during the red flag as he was noticeably frustrated. Busch was comfortably in position to make the race when the red flag flew.
Eventually, the red flag was lifted and racing resumed despite numerous reports that the race would be shortened by rain. The rain held off, however, and racing returned to normal which almost saw Gordon go down two laps before being saved by a wreck just before the leader at the time, Denny Hamlin, passed Gordon once again.
The wreck was caused by Juan Pablo Montoya, who rubbed up against Clint Bowyer while Bowyer was running in the top-5, and cut down Bowyer’s tire, sending him spinning and bringing out a caution.
That caution, coincidentally, allowed Gordon to get back on the lead lap.
As the laps wound down, Bowyer (aided surprisingly by the spin) stayed out and tried to stretch for his second win of the year of the year on a fuel mileage gamble. Meanwhile, Gordon became one of the fastest cars on the track and began to pick off cars one by one as Kyle Busch’s car began to fade.
Bowyer was able to stretch his fuel perfectly to win over Gordon by a little over one second and Gordon was able to take home the second Wild Card position by finishing 2nd, while Kyle Busch finished 16th.
The Chase now begins next weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway with these twelve drivers qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in this specific order:
1. Denny Hamlin (4 wins)
2. Jimmie Johnson (3 wins)
3. Tony Stewart (3 wins)
4. Brad Keselowski (3 wins)
5. Greg Biffle (2 wins)
6. Clint Bowyer (2 wins)
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win)
8. Matt Kenseth (1 win)
9. Kevin Harvick (0 wins)
10. Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins)
11. Kasey Kahne (2 wins, but a Wild Card which means wins = 0)
12. Jeff Gordon (1 win, but a Wild Card which means wins = 0)