Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race truly is win and you’re in

Matt Kenseth is winless this season in the Sprint Cup Series.

Many of his fellow competitors likely hope he remains that way for at least one more week.

Kenseth is already locked in the 16-driver Chase field based on points but should he pick up his first victory of the season in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, that will take away the last opportunity 15 or so other drivers have at making the Chase.

For those drivers, Saturday night’s race truly is win and you’re in.

It could just as easily leave all of them on the outside of the Chase looking in.

“Hopefully we can get a win. That is pretty much our only hope right now, unless (Greg) Biffle has an absolutely horrible night, we are going to have to get a win,” said rookie Kyle Larson.

“It is nice knowing what you have to do, I guess, before the race starts. You just got to be aggressive and get all you can. If we get a win it will be amazing if we can get in the Chase.

“It will be pretty cool.”

The accomplishment would also put Larson in elite company.

Since the Chase format was adapted by NASCAR beginning with the 2004 season, only one rookie has qualified for the 10-race playoff – Denny Hamlin in 2006. Hamlin won two races and finished third in the series standings that season.

Larson said he expects less “give and take” in Saturday night’s race with so much on the line.

“A lot of those guys that are already locked in the Chase are probably going to be up front and understand that I’m going to be doing all I can to try and get in the Chase,” he said.

“You can’t be dirty. Just be as aggressive as you can without really doing anything stupid and making anybody too mad.”

Don’t expect Kenseth to resign himself to making the Chase on points.

“I’d like to consistently have wins, that’s what I’d like to have. The team has really been performing at a high level all year, really,” said Kenseth, who led the series with seven wins last season.

“I know when you look at the record books we have some crashes and some bad finishes and we don’t have a win yet, but I feel like our pit stops have been more consistent and faster than they were last year.

“I feel like the team is really ready; we just need a little more speed.”

Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin were both running up front and were in the mix for a victory last weekend at Atlanta. Kenseth was leading when he was passed by Kasey Kahne with two laps remaining in a second overtime to claim the win.

“I feel like we’re doing everything we can; we just need a little bit more to get over that hump and we’ll be standing in Victory Lane,” Kenseth said.

With Kenseth locked in on points, that leaves just two spots open in the Chase field to be filled based on Saturday night’s results.

There are 19 drivers eligible for those spots. Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle have the best chance at filling those spots if there is no new winner Saturday night (or Kenseth wins).

Clint Bowyer and Larson have a mathematical – if unlikely – chance to make it on points.

Winning remains the preferred option for both.

“As far as the Chase, I think it’s pretty much spelled out, from a points standpoint, what we have to do to make the Chase,” Bowyer said.

“We just have to concentrate on qualifying well, getting a good starting spot and run our race.”

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