Chase almost upon us
By By Jeff Findley
Well, that sure came out of left field. There had been plenty of speculation on whether Richard Petty Motorsports would remain with Dodge or switch to another manufacturer next season. Much of that speculation centered on Toyota. The rumor mill went into high gear about two weeks ago when it was revealed that Kasey Kahne was at a photo shoot with a red Toyota dressed in Budweiser logos.
I don’t think anyone saw a move to Ford and yet another merger with another team. That is exactly what happened this week when it was announced that RPM would merge with Yates Racing to form a four-car team that would drive Fords.
The newly formed team will take the Richard Petty Motorsports name and the drivers will be Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, AJ Allmendinger, and Paul Menard. That leaves Reed Sorenson and, to an extent, Bobby Labonte out in the cold. Sorenson is currently driving the No 43 for RPM and Labonte is in the Hall of Fame Racing car, operated by Yates.
Hall of Fame Racing had a cooperative deal with Yates this season with Labonte as the driver. The owners of that team have said they want Labonte back next season, but operating as one-car team with limited sponsorship will be a tough row to hoe. That’s too bad, Labonte is a class act and a champion. He would look good in Richard Childress’ No 07 car, but that’s a long shot.
This move also puts a question mark on the future of Jamie McMurray. He was the odd man out as Roush Fenway had to cut back to the NASCAR mandated limit of four teams. The popular thought was that the No 26 team would move to Yates. But now, looks as though the 26 team will be no more. A reunion with Chip Ganassi in the open No 1 car could be in McMurray’s future.
Only four drivers have locked themselves into the chase after the first 25 races. Saturday night’s at Richmond is make or break time for the bubble drivers to earn the chance to compete for the championship.
An amazing 122 points separate Carl Edwards in fifth and Kyle Busch in 14th. That means none of those drivers are completely safe. In all reality, though, there are two spots up for grabs Saturday night. I say one spot changes hands, Greg Biffle falls out and Kyle Busch moves in. But, on the three-quarter mile track at Richmond, your fate sometimes falls into the hands of others and some drivers higher in the standings could be bumped out. While not quite as unpredictable as Bristol, Daytona, or Talladega, drivers at Richmond better expect the unexpected.
After this race, the points will be set by wins thus far this season. There’s a good possibility that Mark Martin and Kyle Busch, each with four wins, will share the top spot going into New Hampshire, the first race of the chase.
My pick this Saturday night, to win his first race of the season, is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Roanoke Chowan News Herald, a sister newspaper of The Atmore Advance.