Clint Bowyer is the only driver on the bubble of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and with a comfortable margin in the standings, he needs only to avoid a catastrophe at Richmond International Raceway tonight to clinch his spot in the field.
"Man, I'll tell you, with a 117-point lead, that's a pretty good pad," Bowyer said Friday of his cushion over 13th-place Ryan Newman.
Bowyer, a native of Emporia, qualified fourth and needs only to finish 28th or better at one of his best race tracks to wrap up the last spot in the 12-driver Chase field.
Barring a mechanical failure or a fluke accident, it should be smooth sailing for a driver who has never finished lower than 18th in nine career starts at Richmond. He refused to dwell on the potential pratfalls that could derail his season.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Anything can happen at any time. You can get run over crossing the street," he said. "That's what I tell people every time I get on my Harley and they whine about riding a motorcycle. I say, 'Hey, you can die walking across the street just as easily.' "
Bowyer has teetered around the bottom of the top 12 the last few months, and was actually in the 13th-spot just a month ago. He bounced back from a pit-road penalty at Bristol to finish fourth, and overcame an ill-handling race car at Atlanta last weekend to finish seventh.
Those are the performances that have Bowyer feeling confident headed into tonight's crucial race.
"Last week was a very, very important week for us," Bowyer said. "We struggled big-time in the middle part of that race and were able to come back and get a top-10 finish and, more importantly, put some more points between them and us. That was a big, big sigh of relief."
There are several scenarios that will get Bowyer into the field, but the only thing he needs to focus on is simply running a clean race. If he does that, it won't matter what Newman or Jamie McMurray or Mark Martin does because they won't be able to take that final spot away from Bowyer.
Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton said Bowyer has the right frame of mind.
"He is very relaxed and looking forward to this weekend. He feels like he's in good position," Burton said. "He's really the only one with something to lose this week and he has to understand the situation he's in. They have to avoid disaster. If they avoid disaster, they will be just fine."
Bowyer has made the Chase twice before, in 2007 and 2008. He's got one win at Richmond, and four top 10s in his nine career Cup starts on the 0.75-mile oval.
"I've been in this deal before, I know when to be nervous and when not to, and it's still time to be nervous," Bowyer said. "It's a good feeling going in with a 100-point lead. Anything can happen but the odds are in our favor."
Edwards first — Carl Edwards will start from the pole position tonight. The Roush-Fenway Racing driver turned a fast lap at 127.762 mph in qualifying Friday. He edged Juan Pablo Montoya, whose lap came at 127.455 mph.
The pole is the sixth of Edwards' career and his second this season.
IndyCar bypasses Kansas — A second NASCAR Sprint Cup race next year at Kansas Speedway has squeezed out the IndyCar Series, which won't be racing in Kansas for the first time since the track opened in 2001.
IndyCar officials announced their 2011 schedule on Friday in Milwaukee, which along with Las Vegas and Baltimore will be gaining an Indy race.
Harvick wins Nationwide — Kevin Harvick passed Brad Keselowski for the lead with just over 50 laps to go Friday night and won the Nationwide Series race at Richmond.
Hampered by interference on pit road that caused him to park awkwardly in his stall under a green flag, Keselowski went two laps down before the midpoint of the 250-lap event at Richmond International Raceway. He then rallied and was running third when a caution flag came out with 46 laps to go. He emerged third after the leaders pitted, but came up short.