Race for the NASCAR Chase is on

Kyle Busch holds a 12-point lead over Jeff Gordon for the final wild-card spot in the NASCAR Sprint...

Kyle Busch holds a 12-point lead over Jeff Gordon for the final wild-card spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. There is just one race to go, tonight at Richmond. (Getty)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:34 PM ET

Seven months ago as Kyle Busch was preparing for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, he thought at the end of it all he would not be surprised if he was fighting for a championship with Jeff Gordon.

What he never thought was that he and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team would be fighting with Gordon and the No. 24

Hendrick Motorports Chevrolet team just to get into the championship round.

Well, with only Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship begins at Chicagoland Speedway a week from Sunday, that is exactly where Busch finds himself.

Throw out all the mathematical possibilities and Busch knows the surest way into the Chase is to beat Gordon to the finish line at Richmond.

Right now Busch holds down the 12th and the final wild-card spot — 12 points in front of Gordon.

“For us, he is the guy we have to beat,” Busch said on Friday.

He joked that maybe he and Gordon could have settled it mano-a-mano.

“Jeff and I could’ve brought boxing gloves here and made it a thing between us two,” Busch said.

But there is no joking when it comes to doing everything within the rules to take that final Chase position.

It means millions in extra prize money at the end of the season for him and JGR and millions more to the sponsors who want the exposure that comes with the 10-race Chase.

Busch said that he is surprised that the battle is between the No. 18 Toyota and the No. 24 Chevrolet.

After all, Gordon is a four-time champion and Busch has missed the Chase only once (2009) in the past six seasons.

“You look at those guys and you look at us — I think both of us are surprises that we’re struggling to get ourselves into the Chase,” he said.

It is not a position Busch likes to be in at this time of year.

“I’d rather us be in. I’m used to that. I’m used to being in,” he said. “We came (to Richmond) in 2009 not in the Chase and actually I was in Jeff Gordon’s position where I was just outside.

“I was the one guy outside of it and I needed to beat Brian Vickers by I think eight spots. We weren’t able to accomplish that.

“I finished sixth and he finished ninth or something so we didn’t accomplish the goal that we needed to.”

Busch said he has already gone over all the possibilities of what could happen at RIR and he hopes he is prepared for all of them.

“Anything can happen,” he said. “It’s certainly a race where Jeff could be leading and (he) could have a teammate buffer or something like that behind him.

“I could also have Jeff leading and really count on (JGR teammate) Denny (Hamlin) to do something for me or however you look at it.

“In reality, you’ve just got to let it play out.”

Of course, what the racer in Busch would like to see happen is that on the final lap he and Gordon are 1-2 going for the win and the final wild-card Chase berth.

“I think it would be great if it was the two of us going after the win whether it be he or I leading, but in all reality I think it comes down to every man for himself and this race is everyone’s year,” he said. “This is your (whole season) — this race here to try to make it into the Chase.”

Busch said that making the Chase is the only thing that matters in Sprint Cup and he doesn’t even want to think about the consequences of being on the outside looking in.

“If you don’t make the Chase, essentially the way I feel about it is you are just another car out there making circles,” he said. “I’d rather it not get ugly.”

FINISH LINES

JR Motorsports has parted ways with Tony Eury Sr., its competition director and crew chief for the No. 5 NASCAR

Nationwide Series Chevrolet, effective immediately. The team, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, announced the decision Friday. Eury, an uncle to both Earnhardts, is a winner of 55 NASCAR races in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series as a crew chief. Eury was crew chief for Toronto’s Ron Fellows in his Nationwide races this season — with fifth- place finishes at both Road America and Watkins Glen ... The heroic gold-medal win in handcycling by Alex Zanardi at the Paralympic Games in London this week has IndyCar team owners Jimmy Vasser and Chip Ganassi talking about a joint effort to getting the two-time CART champion in a specially equipped car for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Zanardi, who lost both his legs in a horrific crash at Lausitzring in 2001, never got a chance to race at Indy as his CART career came during the split between CART and the IRL.

 

 

 

MEET THE SCHU BOSS?

The future of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher could be in management at Mercedes, the German auto giant’s racing boss said on Friday.

This comes on the heels of speculation that Mercedes wants to move 27-year-old Lewis Hamilton from McLaren-Mercedes to the home side next season to partner with Nico Rosberg, also 27.

Schumacher, 43, came out of retirement in 2010 and signed a three-year-deal with Mercedes that runs out at the end of the current season.

Mercedes racing director Ross Brawn said Friday at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that he has not ruled out the possibility of Schumacher moving into a management role.

“It is possible,” Brawn said. “In terms of what role Michael would play in the future, we are not discussing that in detail because that is not a consideration at the moment, but Michael’s experience in motor racing, and his judgement and so on, would be an asset to any team.

“I am not sure he wants a day-to-day commitment that some of us do, but he would like to stay involved. He loves the sport, he loves racing, and he loves developing the cars and seeing how the team works.”

In first practice Friday, Hamilton was fastest with a lap of one minute 25.290 seconds.

His McLaren-Mercedes teammate Jenson Button was second fastest at 1:25.328 with championship leader Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) third at 1:25.348.

Schumacher was 10th fastest at 1:26.094 with Rosberg fifth at 1:25.446.

 


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